MP3: Ben Harper and Relentless7 – Under Pressure (Queen cover) from Live from the Montreal International Jazz Festival (2010)
How this so-called “Campus Consciousness” Tour, featuring Ben Harper and Relentless7 and opener Alberta Cross wound up at Pier Six Pavilion on the biggest stoner holiday…well, the only stoner holiday of the year…is beyond me. I mean, who wants to “Burn One Down” in the Inner Harbor?
The last time you may have seen the Relentless7 (of which there are four) was when they were awkwardly backing up Ringo Starr on the Daily Show. Their performance was admittedly not awe-inspiring, probably because they were playing the songs of Ringo Starr (inexplicably a frequent guest of the band). But Ben Harper and Relentless7 will definitely be an exciting act live, which is especially impressive because Harper often plays seated.
Relentless7 is a more rock-oriented group than previous bands Harper has toured with, and their album White Lies for Dark Times thankfully takes more chances than Harper’s adult-contemporary hits from the early part of the 00s. You’ll hear lots of intriguing guitar meandering, some shifting drum patterns, and Harper’s typically incidental lyrics. No, they aren’t a band I listen to all the time. But the best songwriters on record aren’t necessarily the best performers. Take Arctic Monkeys, who I love to listen to on record, but I was a bit disappointed with their unilateral approach live. Ben Harper and Relentless7 are a band that thrives on their live shows, on the flux and unpredictability of real-time performance. Harper is a singularly joyous and charming showman. His concerts are fantastic specifically because they branch out into so many different styles from their blues-rock origins, from funk to hard rock, to pop, to folk, by turns imbued with the spirits of Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Blues Traveler, Parliament, or (perhaps needless-to-say) Lenny Kravitz.
Alberta Cross is the opener, and for some reason they always remind me of the Verve when I hear them. The songs have the same wandering, spacey, barely held together quality, but Petter Stakee is a far quirkier singer than Richard Ashcroft. His voice occasionally takes on a Cedric Bixler-Zavala-like timbre. The songs share some of the Mars Volta’s unhinged volatility while lacking their diamond-cut production and dadaist lyricism. I hadn’t listened to them before, but they are a band playing well beyond their years at the moment. With an opening spot for Ben Harper, they probably stand to increase their cachet. Their imagination on record is admirable and they deserve more than a passing listen.