When a singer-songwriter (Ben Harper) and a blues legend (Charlie Musselwhite) put their heads and their hearts together in the name of a good tune, the resulting tapestry of scales, shouts, hums, riffs and broken-hearted ruminations is bound to be a vibrant one, and that’s exactly what the pair set out to celebrate last night at Irving Plaza.
Get Up!, the product of Harper and Musselwhite’s collaboration that saw its official release yesterday, was an effort in the making for over a decade. They were introduced by blues great John Lee Hooker when they were brought in for a recording session in 1998, and their palpable chemistry eventually coalesced into ten cheerful romps, sentimental throwbacks and romantic dirges led by Harper’s passionate vocal throes and Musselwhite’s sterling solos.
Though their strongest moments shone when there was nothing more than the two of them and a sad refrain between them onstage—namely on “All That Matters,” the closer to both the album and the set—Harper and Musselwhite were joined by an exceptional band who rolled through the Get Up! tracklist with aplomb. Danny Clinch, best known for his photographic and documentarian chops, surprised everyone when he gave Musselwhite a run for his money during a jovial back-and-forth on the harmonica for “When It’s Good,” and Warren Haynes later joined Harper and Musselwhite for a spirited rendition of “When The Levee Breaks.”
Still, it’s the perfect give-and-take between Harper on the guitar and lap steel and Musselwhite’s exceptional manipulation of the harmonica that had the sold-out crowd dancing like a bunch of kids discovering Chuck Berry for the first time at a sock hop in 1957. If there’s anything to take from Harper and Musselwhite’s combined efforts, it’s that the blues—as a lifestyle, language and perpetual muse—ring just as true in 2013 as these exceptional talents that voice ‘em.
I Don’t Believe A Word You Say
Blues Overtook Me
Don’t Look Twice
When It’s Good (with Danny Clinch)
She Got Kick
In Out Gone
Blood Side Out
Ride At Dawn
When the Levee Breaks (with Warren Haynes)
We Can’t End This Way
Meet Me In The Morning
All That Matters Now