Ben Harper has played in Santa Barbara often enough by now that he could be considered an honorary hometowner. So it wasn’t just lip service at Harper’s Arlington concert last week when he name-checked the Bowl, the Granada, and Santa Barbara’s venerable guitar shop, Jensen Guitar & Music Co.
The eclectic, hybridizing guitarist/singer also implicitly and musically name-checked a host of heroes reflected in his set list. With a lean, four-piece version of his band Innocent Criminals, Harper’s song selection found him morphing from Dylan-esque folk to Hendrix-ian psychedelic blues to Taj Mahal country blues and Bob Marley island-flavored pop, via his hits “Steal My Kisses” and “Diamonds on the Inside.”
He flexed his soul-man chops on Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious,” and bassist Juan Nelson did justice to Hendrix’s/Band of Gypsys’ “Them Changes,” shortly after a feisty, rat-a-tat version of Hendrix’s “Machine Gun.”
Expectedly, Harper was at his most personally distinctive in slide-guitarist mode, sounding especially bold, tasteful, wild, and lyrical — to suit the material — on both the acoustic Weissenborn and a raucous-toned electric lap steel. The show closed on a grace note, with an encore of “Welcome to the Cruel World,” a sweet tune with a bittersweet message.
Hey, King!, an indie folk-pop outfit led by Natalie London and Taylor Plecity with echoes of Arcade Fire and Edward Sharp, opened the show with their inspired, fresh sound. Their Harper-produced album is forthcoming. Keep an ear out.