I knew I’d be in for a special night when Ben Harper brought his acoustic show to the Sydney Opera House. The combination of stripped back music from one of my favourite performers in one of Australia’s most beloved venues was always going to impress. But I wasn’t prepared for just how much Ben would give us.
There was no support act, no backing band, no intermission: just Ben Harper and an enthralled Sydney crowd coming together for close to four hours. Never before have I witnessed an artist giving an audience so much of themselves and their time. He remarked a few times on the quality of the sound in the Opera House, the best he’d ever experienced he said, and it seemed he wanted to enjoy it for as long as possible.
The show wasn’t quite the acoustic evening we were promised. Ben didn’t mind plugging in his electric guitar for a blistering rendition of “Please Bleed” that morphed into “Something in the Way.” But no one cared if Ben played strictly by the rules. I was delighted to see him moving easily from instrument to instrument, delivering a number on his slide guitar, then taking up a ukulele, before sitting down at the piano. We even heard a bit of xylophone!
The set list was stellar, with many fan favourites and exciting reworkings of some of his biggest hits. I loved the bluegrass flavour he brought to “Steal My Kisses,” and the original lullaby stylings of “With My Own Two Hands.” I was particularly thrilled to hear my personal favourites “Walk Away” and “Waiting on an Angel” performed so beautifully.
The show was as much about connecting with words as much as music though. Ben seemed genuinely happy to interact with the crowd as they yelled out quips and requests between songs. He also shared so much of himself, stories about his family, his childhood, and the people he’s met. I was particularly moved to hear of the time he met Jeff Buckley at a French Music Festival, and when Heath Ledger gifted him his grand piano. These personal tales were made even more poignant when accompanied with “Hallelujah,” a Leonard Cohen song Jeff famously covered, and “Morning Yearning,” a song that saw Heath Ledger playing music video director.
After two generous encores, Ben closed the evening in true acoustic style. He sat at the front of the stage while he serenaded us with “Suzie Blue.” Without even a microphone to amplify his voice or ukulele, the crowd were hushed to hear. It was a stunning end to a spectacular night of music.
Image source: own photos