What could be a more perfect venue than the historic Granada Theatre to welcome back smooth and soulful artist Ben Harper to Santa Barbara? With no openers or bandmates on the bill for Friday night’s sold-out show, concertgoers knew this was going to be an intimate evening with the California native in the spotlight.
Harper opened the show on the banjo, strumming an instrumental version of “The Long Road Home.” Later, the singer showcased his impressive vocal range on “Fight Outta You” and a cover of Mazzy Star’s hit “Fade Into You,” sprinkling in fan favorites like “Diamonds On The Inside” and “Burn One Down” along the way. Harper’s signature high-pitched whisper made its appearance throughout the night, along with flashes of emotion and power that felt balanced between the mix of upbeat and calm tunes.
As far as highlights go, the audience went wild for a nearly five-minute-long jam that mashed up Harper’s “All My Heart Can Take” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” He later was joined by harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite for a bluesy take on “I’m In I’m Out I’m Gone.” And tings got emotional during the second encore when Harper’s mom, Ellen, joined her son for duets of “City of Dreams” and “Born To Love You,” both slated to appear on an upcoming record they’re working on together. The evening ended on a high note as Harper broke out the ukulele for “Suzie Blue,” graciously thanking his fans and expressing his humble gratitude for their attendance and enthusiasm.
Although the nearly thee-hour-long show and 30-song setlist may have seemed like a stretch, audience members seemed more than happy to watch Harper do his thing. We’ve long known the singer to be a Santa Barbara favorite, but Friday’s show served to cement his place in the hearts of area fans. This is, most certainly, not the last we’ll see of Harper around these parts.