Ben Harper Lights Up RIMAC Field

San Diego showed its pretty side Monday as gray clouds gave way to blue skies for Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Jurassic 5 and Jack Johnson at RIMAC Field.

David Pilz

A laid-back crowd accompanied the pleasant weather. I might be pushing it, but there was a 1960s Woodstock vibe to the entire concert. People were relaxing on blankets and enjoying the company of the thousands who showed up for the concert. As some concertgoers put it, there was a “”communal”” feeling surrounding everyone.

The golden sun of Memorial Day cast the perfect lighting for the acoustic groove of Jack Johnson. Smooth bass riffs and acoustic guitar rounded out a sound that was reminiscent of headliner Ben Harper.

As dusk settled, Jurassic 5 took the stage and played an incredible set. For those in the audience unfamiliar with Jurassic 5, this set was the perfect crash course to their eclectic sound. Jurassic 5’s improvised rhymes and clean harmonies were fabulous, and their beats kept everyone on their feet with their hands up in the air.

J-5 effectively charged the audience for the triumphant appearance of Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals.

Night fell and the bright lights on the stage glowed like jewels. Harper and the rest of the band took the stage to a crowd that simply went mad for them. Harper and the rest, who have performed at UCSD twice before, did not waste any time going through a set that ranged from lighter acoustic material to hard-edged jams with Harper’s solo work paying tribute to Jimi Hendrix.

Harper’s wide range of musical styles match the wide range of guitars that he brought onstage. Slide guitar is his signature instrument, but the way he handled his acoustic guitar and the rest of his electric guitars made many a jaw drop with amazement.

He played a passable cover of Stevie Wonder’s “”Superstition,”” but the highlight of the show came when he played “”Burn One Down.”” With the first few chords of the song, a curious plume of thick, fragrant smoke drifted over the crowd. What else could you expect?

Harper finished his set with a rousing rendition of his recent hit, “”Steal My Kisses,”” but he later reappeared for the encore. He started with a couple of intimate acoustic songs by himself and was later joined by the vocal group Blind Boys of Alabama, who added a soulful gospel sound to the last songs of Harper’s encore. This mellow part of the evening kept much of the audience quiet as they listened in awe.

This was by far one of the best concerts that UCSD has hosted recently. Jack Johnson and Jurassic 5 were both incredible, but if Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals played any better, they would be guilty as charged.

I know you saw that line coming.