Gig Review – Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Music icon Ben Harper and his good friend Charlie Musselwhite brought the blues, and their new album ‘No Mercy In This Land’, to the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 7th April 2018.

To mark the third and final date on their whistle-stop UK tour, Harper took to the stage in a vintage-inspired patchwork shirt, jeans, and a pair of glossy high top trainers – a style that mimics his eclectic mix of musical influences – while Musselwhite, unsurprisingly, opted for a more understated and casual look, a baggy black shirt and black trousers.

As the duo launched into their set list, it was clear to see they’d chosen the perfect venue for their London stop. Designed by famed architect Frank Matcham, who was responsible for the design and construction of over 90 theatres, the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire boasts spine-tingling acoustics perfect for intimate and soulful gigs.

Throughout the almost two-hour-long show, which included toe-tapping numbers ‘When I Go’, ‘The Bottle Wins Again’, and ‘Movin’ On’, Harper and Musselwhite rotated through a variety of musical instruments, including guitars, a piano, and a harmonica.

While much of the audience came to see Ben Harper sing the blues, credit must be given to 74-year-old harmonica giant Charlie Musselwhite. Musselwhite, a Mississippi native who came to prominence in the 1960s, effortlessly reconfirmed his status as one of the best of his generation. With a box full of tricks (harmonicas) sat at his feet, the blues veteran treated the enthralled audience to a number of technically complex and emotionally compelling harmonica solos. Combined with his gritty and powerful vocals, Musselwhite transported the crowd to a smoky blues-bar in the heart of Chicago.

The stand-out performance of the night came when Harper symbolically removed his Borsalino hat to belt out a raw and poignant version of ‘All That Matters Now’ (taken from the duo’s first album ‘Get Up!’) sans microphone. The electrifying moment, accompanied by the delicate voice-like tones of Musselwhite’s harmonica, received a rousing applause from a buzzing audience.

The night, a celebration of two kindred souls who know how to make great music, is one that I, and I suspect many of the audience, will remember for a long time.

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