Ben Harper & Faccini | 9.15 | New York

Words by Rich Lieberman :: Images by Lindsey Wernert

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals with Piers Faccini
09.15.07 :: Radio City Music Hall :: New York, NY

Ben Harper :: 09.15 :: Radio City
Radio City Music Hall's famous marquee spans a full city block, and on this cool mid-September evening it read "Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals – One Night Only – Sold Out!" Close to 6,000 people would flock to Rockefeller Center and pass through its Grand Foyer into one of the most spectacular theaters in the world. Its sweeping arches and orange glow create a vast curving space that frames the Great Stage, which has a history of over six decades of remarkable performances. It has been said "To step out on the Great Stage of the Music Hall is to know what it is to be a star."

Ben Harper and his Innocent Criminals were stars indeed, as they captivated the packed house with a concoction of music that cannot be defined by any one or even two genres. To be a fan of Harper's music is to be a fan of songs without boundaries, a style not easily defined, yet powerful and coming deep from the soul. This show had all the trappings of what Ben Harper brings to the table; including his intense connection with the audience that proved both exhilarating and uplifting. The show took us on a journey through pleasure, passion, even pain as Harper sang from his heart and experience, his words and facial expressions showing poignant, raw emotion.

Fresh off of nine months of touring, the band mixed and recorded Lifeline (released August 28 on Virgin Records) in Paris over just seven days. The material, recorded without the use of computers or Pro-Tools, came off marvelous live. On this night the band offered up ten of the eleven tracks from Lifeline, along with great selections from Harper's entire catalog and three superb covers.

Ben Harper :: 09.15 :: Radio City
The stage was tastefully set with gorgeous chandeliers hanging above. The lighting glistened off the musicians; each dressed to kill, sporting Prohibition-era mafia style suits and fedoras. The sharp dressed Criminals are Juan Nelson on bass, Leon Mobley on percussion, Michael Ward on guitar, Oliver Charles on drums and Jason Yates on keyboards. The set opened with all five guys huddled around a single microphone and Harper to the side on his trusty Weissenborn acoustic lap guitar. "11th Commandment" segued into Bob Dylan's "Well, Well, Well" from Harper's 1994 Grammy winning There Will Be The Light to start the two hour program.

The new songs sounded fresh and were played well, seamlessly weaving in and out of diverse musical directions. The genre jumping worked well, all connecting through the soulful vocals of a man and a band on a mission. "In The Colors" and "Put It On Me" had the crowd up and dancing, though for much of the night the fans were in their seats.

As they rolled through a great rendition of "Gold To Me" the focus was on the rhythm section of Nelson and Charles, who stayed on stage with Harper as a trio for a nice version of "Whipping Boy." The set was a great mix of old and new, sans some of Harper's greatest hits. When they blasted into the ultra funky Bill Withers classic "Use Me" Radio City turned into a dance hall. "Use Me," never performed live by Harper before this tour, was simply electric.

Harper saved his most impressive number of the night to close the set, "Where Could I Go." In the middle of the song, Harper turned to silence the band and then the audience as he moved to center stage to sing without any amplification. Radio City was quiet enough that he could be heard through the entire hall. This a cappella display brought chills as Harper's gutsy move proved the highlight of the entire show. The crowd erupted and stood as he ran back to jump off the drum riser as the Criminals brought the song full circle.

The five-song encore was highlighted by an incredible version of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" with opener Piers Faccini invited back onstage to lend his amazing vocals on alternate verses. "Like A King" into "I'll Rise" was a fantastic way to send this New York crowd home.

09.15.07 :: Radio City Music Hall :: New York, NY

11th Commandment > Well Well Well, Fight Outta You, Picture In A Frame, Fool For A Lonesome Train, In The Colors, Gold To Me, Whipping Boy, Younger Than Today, Having Wings, Two Hands Of A Prayer, There Will Be A Light, Needed You Tonight, Put It On Me, Say You Will, Use Me, Where Could I Go
Encore: Paris Sunrise #7 > Lifeline, Masters Of War (w/ Piers Faccini), Like A King / I'll Rise

A Closer Look at Piers Faccini
By: Fil Manley and Rich Lieberman

Piers Faccini by Fil Manley
Piers Faccini was born in the U.K., grew up in the French countryside and returned to London to hone his skills in art and music. With a much larger following in Europe, his current tour with Harper should raise his profile in the States a good deal. Faccini's set starts each evening with the young man alone on stage as the crowd shuffles in.

"I start the shows by myself and end with 'Talk to her' on the acoustic" says Faccini. "In the 35 minutes that we have I try to give as full a range of the songs as I can. By the end of the set there's a sweet silence settled over the crowd." Midway through the Radio City set, the theater almost full, the audience was fully engaged. Like Harper, his music is hard to tag to any specific genre. He doesn't want to fall into the clichéd singer-songwriter territory. The songs are well crafted with an eclectic West Indian flair. Along with his guitar and harp, Faccini uses Indian percussion and Chinese violin to create a unique style. His voice is soft and hypnotic at times, and at others he punches it hard.

Faccini's album Tearing Sky (released in the U.S. last year on Everloving) is as understated and hard to define as the man himself. The soft-spoken Englishman has created an album with deep shades of world music and roots blues that recalls Muddy Waters in its complicated simplicity. It would be easy to mistake this album for a lonely solo project. The cover is a blurry photo of his face he took with a digital camera outside near twilight. It's not until you read the credits that you realize how much effort went into this LP and the variety of people who contributed to it - producer J.P. Plunier (Ben Harper, Jack Johnson), Ben Harper and all the Innocent Criminals as well as Adam Topol, Jack Johnson's drummer. They all shared in the creation of Tearing Sky. Beyond those listed, a rich assortment of musicians, too numerous to mention, contributed. Plunier himself makes a cameo on "Uncover My Eyes."

I've had a very hard time defining this music, except for one image which keeps coming to mind, which is red wine. We were drinking red wine when we spoke in Faccini's dressing room. The song "Days Like These" contains the haunting line, "Pour a glass, brimful of red, drink it down, the past is dead." Every song on this album makes me want to turn down the lights, pour a glass of red and be close to someone I love.

Faccini is as unassuming as he is forthright. He credits as influences Skip James, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and The Smiths, and his favorite guitars are the Martin 018 and the Guild he plays onstage. He sharpened his musical skills playing on the streets of Rome, London and the Paris underground. In the early years, he supported his musical habit by working as a painter, decorator and once by toting 50-pound bags of potatoes in Wales.

Good music is so many pieces - not just guitar, not just drums, not just vocals. It's a harmony of elements. On Tearing Sky, Plunier and Faccini create a symphony as delicately balanced as it is heavy with decades of musical experience. Faccini's lyrics are a study in melancholia and accepted fate. He writes with naked vulnerability, which has become unfashionable in this disposable, neo-hipster world. Faccini's lyrics expose a God fearing poet who seems to be trying to decide whether to swallow the blue or the red pill.

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[Published on: 10/12/07]

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johnnygoff Sat 10/13/2007 01:03AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


i don't just post on to see myself talk. I believe in the writers. non more-so than Rich Lieberman. He works at his craft and being a city dwella (NYC) gives him some great opps. This is one of them, much like many more to come. We all want to whisp out our own candle while it's far as "on the fly" music writers go, I'll take Rich Lieberman as my literary camelback anyday. nice job. YOU CAN TELL YOU REALLY PUT THOUGHT INTO THIS...

Flat5 Thu 10/18/2007 11:53AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


this sounds interesting, and i'm not saying that just to see myself talk, either