McCall is a HUGE Ben Harper fan. Her affinity is one of the main reasons Harper is so named. McCall has told me numerous times that Ben Harper was the voice of God for her until she could hear Him for herself, that listening to his music was a form of prayer and worship for her.
Last night, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals played the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Our good friend and former nanny, Moon, is in town visiting and she agreed to babysit Harper for us so we could go to the show. It was a much needed and anticipated date night for us.
Through a series of events, the details of which I'll spare you, we had an extra pair of tickets we were hoping to unload. We weren't trying to make a profit, we just didn't want to eat the cost of an extra pair of fairly expensive tickets.
We dined at the Daily Grill and before our meal we prayed that God would guide the tickets to the right people. When you live by faith, you never know what moments may lead to life changing experiences for yourself or those around you. So we wanted to be open to the possibility that our extra set of tickets could be God's unexpected grace in someone else's life.
Standing outside waiting for the valet to bring us our car, McCall starting asking other patrons if they were fans of Ben Harper. The first guy professed that he didn't even have cable TV. I'm not sure what that had to do with Ben Harper, but he seemed to offer it as an explanation for not knowing who Ben Harper is. We then saw a young couple and the girl became immediately excited at the prospect of seeing Ben live. Unfortunately, the guy she was with had some "homework" he had to finish and she was unable to raise anybody else on the phone to join her.
So officially that left us at Expensive Tickets 2, Kyle and McCall 0.
We hopped in our car and headed over to the Orpheum hoping we might be able to find someone looking for seats there. McCall was very concerned because the show started at 8pm and we were cutting it close. Almost immediately it seemed that unloading our extra seats was going to be very unlikely. It was obvious that anybody hanging around this area of downtown either already had tickets, was homeless, or was looking to purchase something else.
When we saw the marquee, we realized there was an opening act, Piers Faccini, so we had a little bit of time. McCall and I both thought to call Moon and have her bring Harper down for the show. So Moon roused Harper, rushed out the door, and roared down Wilshire to the Orpheum.
She arrived just in time. McCall took Harper to our seats in Row G, center aisle right as Ben settled into his opening number, 11th Commandment, a solo on his lap steel guitar. Meanwhile, Moon and I took our seats in Row V. If my seat had been any further to the left, I would have been sitting in the parking lot.
I kept looking over to try and see McCall and Harper. Harper was pretty easy to spot with these big florescent pink earphones on. Unfortunately, she tends to get squirmy when we hold her too long. She really loves to run, explore, and meet new people. So McCall was constantly getting in and out of the row. I was very worried that the people next to or behind her would get upset.
I relieved McCall for a while and let Harper roam around the Orpheum's massive lobby. She loved climbing the marbled stairs and we took a quick peak from the mezzanine. Eventually, a very kind couple in the same row (opposite side) gave McCall their aisle seats so she could get in and out more easily. We didn't seem them after that, I guess they just left or something. Regardless, this allowed me and Moon to come down to Row G.
It was so much fun to watch Harper. Everyone around us seemed awestruck by our little girl. People kept checking in with her to see her reaction. Several times she walked down to front of the stage and stand at the security rail. At one point, we gave her a bottle and she sat bobbing on Mommy's shoulders with it stuck in her mouth. It was the funniest sight. I can't imagine that's happened too many times before at one of their shows.
The concert ended at the perfect time; just as Harper was starting to get really restless. At the end of the show McCall carried her down to the front and Leon Mobley, percussion, handed her a drum stick. Then Ben gave her one of the fabric roses that had adorned the piano all night.
The show itself was totally amazing. It had the feeling of a worship service. I could definitely sense God's presence. And why not? If I were God, I'd go to a Ben Harper show. I'm reminded of the song Anyone Can Play Guitar by Radiohead. In it Thom Yorke sings "I want to play in a band when I get to Heaven." Well, I'm pretty sure I'll be watching Ben Harper for the rest of eternity play the lap steel in Heaven's band.
Three moments in particular stand out to me. The first was a cover of Tom Petty's Breadown. I'm a huge classic rocker, so I was stoked when I heard the band playing it. Unfortunately, I was in the men's room at the time with Harper Jo (hey, the title of the blog isn't alliterative lip service). However, we were able to make it back into the theatre to catch the tail end.
The second moment was during Where Could I Go, the last song of the set before the encore. In the middle of the song, the band suddenly went totally quiet. Ben swung the microphone away from his face and stepped in front of the monitors to the very edge of the stage and sang the next verse a cappella. The excitement in the crowd was palpable and many had difficulty containing their hoots and caterwauls.
Ben recoiled from the shouts, obviously wanting absolute quiet. We obliged. Even Harper remained silent. The result was one of the most amazing live performances I've ever witnessed. Ben's voice filled the cavernous hall. I'm very glad I was standing so close to experience this, but I wander if it was wasn't even more spectacular from the balcony. He finished with the lyrics "They say freedom is just a place to hide/Now I'm coming to you with arms open wide/Where could I go but to the Lord," and the band kicked in at full volume as the crowd erupted in ecstatic rhapsody.
The last moment was something really special. Towards the end of the show, the band finished a song and the crowd started cheering. But the band just stood there looking at us. And we cheered louder. For what seemed like five or six full minutes we cheered, the volume rising steadily. But I don't think we were applauding Ben Harper's personal musical achievements as we were the opportunity to come together with so many different people and witness the beauty and inspiration that comes from watching someone do something they love so passionately so excellently.
As he stood there gazing out into the audience, I think Ben Harper felt humbled. He made no gestures to prompt the applause, did nothing to accept it. Simply stood and listened. Ben Harper may be a musician but it's possible this an erroneous label for him. I think more accurately he might be described as a harbinger of joy. Because that's what we were all feeling in that moment. Regardless of what awaited us when left the Orpheum, no matter what demons hunched at the doors, in that moment, everyone in the audience knew they were alive. We felt joy and we expressed it, we lifted it up and shared it with each other.
Eventually, the band had to start playing the next song. Because I for one had no intention of stopping. In fact I was just getting warmed up.
As we filed out, people kept wanting to meet Harper, take her picture, have their picture taken with her. She made tons of friends and brought smiles to everyone. I remembered my prayer from earlier that evening and I realized it had been answered. God had directed those tickets into the right hands. And our family was able to experience an amazing event together.
Not only was it Harper's first Ben Harper show, but it was Moon's as well and she was totally blown away. It felt good that we could give that to her considering how much she does for us. She is a really incredible friend.
God also demonstrated to me His unexpected grace last night. Everyone around us at the show was ready to help with Harper. Everyone was so kind. Everyone was positive. From the woman into whose drink I accidentally put my hand, to the kind couple sitting next me in Row V who thoughtfully asked me if I would like to share their weed. It was truly awesome to see even a small portion of Los Angeles come together in celebration and love. If you were at the Orpheum on Thursday, November 8, 2007, you showed me grace and I thank you.