Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite deliver a night to remember

Ben Harper
Photo by Ryan Johnson

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite at the Orpheum Theatre, 8/23/18

“Don’t let me wake up from this dream”, Ben Harper implored approximately 2,500 cheering fans at the end of his set with Charlie Musselwhite August 23rd in Vancouver. The Grammy award-winning musicians were in the early stages of a late summer tour in support of their second full length collaborative effort No Mercy in This Land.

The evening began several hours earlier when the four fresh faced musicians of up and coming indie band Hey, King! crept onto the stage. Until now Hey, King! could quite possibly be the music world’s best kept secret. The quartet stood in an evenly spaced row and delivered a set that began with front woman Natalie London uttering the words “this is my guitar”.

One could describe London’s vocal prowess as powerhouse and be spot on, but it would only be partially correct. The author, musician, and lyme disease survivor, has a voice that can belt out wry lyrics with the smoothness of satin, and sharpness of a razor blade.

This is a band that understands the difference between simple and minimal. The natural rapport London has with the audience is endearing. Watching her and her boisterous drummer and back up vocalist Taylor Plecity hold hands and literally skip off the stage was very endearing. Keep an eye out for their upcoming album, produced by none other than Ben Harper himself.

Ben Harper
Photo by Ryan Johnson

The mood as Ben Harper, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy Paxson, Jason Mozersky, and Jesse Ingalls took the stage was electric. The audience, one of the liveliest Vancouver has seen in recent memory, clapped and cheered as the five veteran musicians readied themselves, but immediately fell silent as Harper played the first note of the set.

It was a long, drawn out bay from his steel guitar that was joined by the howl of Musselwhite’s harmonica several seconds later. In that moment, it was obvious why the pair had opted to do a second album.

Destiny. A pre-ordained fate. An outcome that cannot be avoided. Two amazing talents telling their stories in a way that they become heard and understood as one.

The set was a rich mix of rootsy blues infused with gospel and sprinkled here and there with rockabilly. Harper spent a large part of the evening seated, with his steel guitar resting in his lap.

During the two hour performance, that guitar was often caressed, stroked, sometimes poked, prodded and on one occasion entirely manhandled. Musselwhite lent his lush, gravelly voice to the mix between

The evening was full of highlights. One memorable moment was the dedication of the raucous tune “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say” to “America’s soon to be ex-president”. Harper ended the song by speaking the prahase “not a word”, which was followed by a standing ovation.

Ben Harper
Photo by Ryan Johnson

Later, Harper was waving a tambourine and sharing the story of how he was drawn to music at a young age through his church. The tale morphed into a short history of rock and roll while the audience clapped along. Later still, the audience was treated to one of the most epic drum solos, courtesy of Jimmmy Paxson, the Orpheum has likely ever seen.

Upon reflection, the evening was essentially one magical musical moment after the other. Strangely contradictory to much of the subject matter, the mood was uplifting and downright joyful.

By the end of the set, the crowd was on their feet. And that’s where they stayed for the entirety of the encore.

Harper sang the majority of the final tune without so much as a microphone. One could hear a pin drop as he paused to take a breath.

“We are together and that’s all that matters now” Haper’s voice resonated throughout the venue. It felt genuine. And so was the ensuing applause and several minutes of cheering. It’s beautiful to think that Vancouver might have successfully showed due appreciation for a performance.

Before leaving the stage, hand over heart, Harper urged “don’t let me wake up from this dream.”

Ditto, sir.

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite @ The Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver B.C. , Aug. 23/2018.
Photo by Ryan Johnson