By: Ian Feder
Relentless 7 :: 12.03.08 :: Belly Up Tavern :: Solano Beach, CA
The highly-anticipated concert at the Belly Up Tavern by Relentless 7 started out with a scalper-deterring "will call only" ticket process, as will every show on this tour. The band, which features guitarist-singer Ben Harper, Jason Mozersky (guitar), Jesse Ingalls (bass) and Jordan Richardson (drums) is playing small club shows, the size of which superstar Harper hasn't played in a very long time.
|Ben Harper by Melissa Nicholson|
Upon entering the venue, the excitement of the first ever headlining Relentless 7 show was vibrating through the air (the band debuted on October, 29 in Youngstown, Ohio as part of the Beastie Boys-led "Get Out the Vote" benefit, see a sweet clip below). As the club quickly filled up, the opening act, Grace Woodroofe, took the stage and appeared to be quite the cute, nervous little girl. Her beautifully soft yet sultry Australian accented voice and basic acoustic guitar playing served as nice background music as most of the crowd chatted and eagerly awaited the headliner.
As Relentless 7 walked onstage, the aura was decidedly different from the most recent Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals tour, where they dressed in suits and played to a sit down crowd. The band members were dressed very casually with Harper in cargo pants and a denim shirt and the rest of the band in jeans and t-shirts, which made one realize this was going to be more of a rock & roll show. With only a few songs available from the band's website, including a fantastic cover of Led Zeppelin "Good Times, Bad Times," Prince's "Purple Rain" and an original called "Serve Your Soul," which is almost 10-minutes long with a rocking jam in the middle, the expected sound of the band was loud, bluesy and very rock & roll.
From the first note, the band did not disappoint those expectations. Relentless 7 started out with an ear piercing loudness that foreshadowed what the rest of the night had in store. I thought is was interesting when the sound tech offered the front row people ear plugs, as I've never seen anything like that before, but within a minute of the start of the show it was clear that those who accepted were happy they did.
The first few songs were a little bit jarring for much of the crowd, who seemed to be mostly seasoned Harper fans and were not quite sure of what they were getting themselves into. The combination of Harper's incendiary slide guitar and Mozersky's heavy, deep and bluesy guitar playing was a definite contrast to the general sound and vibe of The Innocent Criminals. This was incredibly evident when early on, Relentless 7 covered Harper's "Better Way." It sounded harder and faster, and it was obvious that Harper was fighting some kind of cold/flu because his voice was particularly raspy to the point of cracking twice during the prolonged notes. In addition to the raspiness, the mix was far too soft all night on Harper's vocals. That might have been intentional to take focus away from his stressed voice, however, due to the incredibly loud amplification of the guitars it was often difficult to hear his voice, let alone make out the words of these largely unfamiliar new songs.
It wasn't until six songs into the set that the band truly got into a groove. Their heavy original "Keep It Together" was the turning point in this show, where it seemed that the old school Harper fans opened their minds and ears to a new direction of his music and the band seemed to be gelling quite nicely. Richardson on drums made this song truly come alive as his tight rolls and incredibly animated personality shined through the rest of the band. The entire venue seemed to be emulating his enormous smile and energetic state of mind as dancing kick started while he and Mozersky fed off one another and the utter enjoyment of the whole band flowed through the room.
This energy continued the rest of the night, but was captured best by another original, "Boots Like These," which seemed to be like Harper's own spin on "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'," and turned out to be a crowd pleaser. During this number, Harper jumped and danced all over the stage, even up on the drum platform while holding a tambourine and maracas.
|Ben Harper by Melissa Nicholson|
After a short encore break, the band returned and played a soft original to get things started, which was an interesting choice after the heavy, fast pace of the rest of the show. However, this was short lived as Relentless 7 quickly moved into a crowd sing-a-long to Queen and Bowie's "Under Pressure," which got the energy flowing in the room again and easily segued into "Serve Your Soul" to end the night. After the rocking version that was streaming on the band's website, the live version had a lot to live up to and it met every expectation, especially during Harper's fervent slide guitar improvisation. However, "Keep it Together" may have been a better choice to end on, as "Serve Your Soul" seemed to need something after it and left the crowd longing for a more conclusive ending.
Relentless 7 are a prime example of a deep blues, hard rock band with an occasional softer edge brought on by Harper's soothing, soulful voice. The band will likely continue to gel as they get more stage time together, and this bodes well for a long lived, high energy act, fueled by Harper's fame, Mozersky's incendiary guitar licks and Richardson's incredibly animated personality on drums. If this is the future of Ben Harper, then Relentless 7 will attract a number of longtime Harper fans, but will also recruit a fan base who appreciates this heavier sound reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin and the harder songs of The Innocent Criminals.
Relentless 7 are on tour now, dates available here.
Relentless 7 "Keep It Together" - 10/29 Youngstown, Ohio
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