Ben Harper

Live at the Hollywood Bowl [DVD]

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Captured in concert at the titular venue for the tour supporting Ben Harper's 2003 Diamonds on the Inside release, he and his Innocent Criminals band charge through a two hour show choosing tracks from all of their five releases up to this point. Not surprisingly, the show is heavily weighted with music from the newer album, which accounts for six out of the show's 15 tracks. The six-piece band is remarkably tight as they follow their leader through his unique blend of spiritually/sexually oriented rock, reggae, blues, soul and world music. It sounds hopelessly diverse, but Harper pulls it off with his low-key yet driven stage presence and confidence. Short interview snippets -- including an interesting one that explains why Harper now predominantly stands when he plays as opposed to sitting down as in the past -- punctuate the show. That doesn't necessarily ruin the flow, but does suggest that the editors might have altered the running order somewhat. The band is dressed for the occasion in flashy country suits, seemingly borrowed from the Flying Burrito Brothers, with Harper's royal blue number particularly sharp. The DVD extras include ten minutes of extraneous, generally uninteresting backstage footage, two studio videos from the Diamonds album and a searing version of "Ground on Down" performed at the afternoon soundcheck, but not at the show. Harper also digs into his cover arsenal for impressive versions of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and Bob Marley's "War," the latter as a pre-encore, set-closing medley joined with Harper's "With My Own Two Hands." The 5.1 surround sound is impressive, with each instrument clear and distinctive in the mix, and just enough audience noise to give you the feeling of being there. A must for any Harper fan, the DVD is also a good place for newcomers to warm up to the singer/songwriter's eclectic musical approach and sharp band.