Ben Harper wants to make one thing crystal clear about his new Live From Mars album this ain't no '70s concert record.
What you hear on the album is just what he and his backing band, the Innocent Criminals, have been delivering night in and night out for audiences across the globe during the past two years.
"I think it's important to point out that there are no overdubs," Harper said of the live double album. "A lot of live records you hear about, especially from the '70s, they're really concert tapes that are completely redone and doctored in the studio. This is not the case with Live From Mars. It's all raw, and what you hear is the one take it took for us to lay it down. One take, live, straight up."
Recorded while Harper and the Innocent Criminals crisscrossed the globe in support of their gold 1999 album, Burn to Shine, Live at Mars catalogs the concert highlights across a sprawling, double-disc set.
The first disc features Harper, drummer Dean Butterworth, bassist Juan Nelson and percussionist David Leach in full band mode, while the second disc focuses on Harper's solo acoustic interludes and encores.
After issuing four studio records over the past seven years dating to his 1994 debut, Welcome to the Cruel World and steadily developing a reputation for his incendiary, Weissenborn-laced live performances, Harper said it was finally now or never for a concert recording.
"In between all the Burn to Shine touring, we all of a sudden had a month-and-a-half of downtime, and it was the only time we were going to have off the road for the next six months to a year," he said. "[Also,] if we tried to make a live record after putting out five or six albums, it would have been just too many shows. Realistically, it would have meant another three years of shows and, most likely, another two albums worth of material to sort through.
"We had already amassed such an overwhelming amount of live recorded material that if we didn't go in and sort through this stuff now and release what we had, logistically it would have become more and more impossible. It would have involved too much stuff. Also, with doing it now, we're able to strongly represent each one of the four studio records we have put out, and so the more studio records you have out, the more you dilute that process of representation."
Harper estimates that he and longtime producer J.P. Plunier spent more than 100 hours listening to tapes and going through songs from concerts in front of audiences ranging from 2,000-seat theaters to 20,000-seat amphitheaters.
But as they were compiling the track listing for Live From Mars, Harper admitted that that the only real guideline he and the band used in selecting material was something he refers to as the "three cover rule."
"We only wanted to have three covers on the live record, that was the rule," Harper said. " Two on the band disc [Marvin Gaye's 'Sexual Healing' and Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love'], one on the acoustic [The Verve's 'The Drugs Don't Work']. That factored into the inclusion of 'Sexual Healing,' which beat out a lot of other good songs, including 'Voodoo Chile,' 'Manic Depression,' and 'Let's Get It On.'
"The real reason we picked ['Sexual Healing'] was because after hearing all the covers, we were all like, 'Yeah, this is the one we really want to have out there right now.' If there wasn't a good version of it, we wouldn't have put it on the record, but we found one that stuck out and felt really good."
"Sexual Healing" also will be the first radio single from Live From Mars, and the band has recently been tapped to perform alongside Black Sabbath, Crazy Town, De la Soul, Incubus and Busta Rhymes at the first ESPN Action Sports & Music Awards, set for April 7 at Los Angeles' Universal Amphitheatre.
Dates for Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals spring tour, according to the band's publicists:
- 4/6 - Claremont, CA @ Bridges Auditorium (Ben Harper solo acoustic)
- 4/20 - Philadelphia, PA @ University of Pennsylvania "Spring Fling" (w/ Black Eyed Peas)
- 4/21 - Providence, RI @ Brown University (w/ Jurassic 5)
- 4/24 - Albany, NY @ Palace Theater
- 4/25 - Durham, NH @ University of New Hampshire
- 4/28 - Fairfield, CT @ Fairfield University (w/ Jurassic 5)
- 4/30 - Towson, MD @ Towson University
- 5/1 - Norfolk, VA @ Norva Theater
- 5/3 - New Orleans, LA @ State Palace Theater (w/ Ozomatli)
- 5/5 - Memphis, TN @ Beale Street Music Festival
- 5/6 - Atlanta, GA @ Music Midtown Festival
- 5/7 - Louisville, KY @ Palace Theatre (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/8 - Cleveland, OH @ Palace Theatre (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/11 - LaCrosse, WI @ LaCrosse Center (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/13 - Cedar Rapids, IA @ Paramount Theater (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/14 - Ames, IA @ Stephens Auditorium (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/17 - Jackson Hole, WY @ Snowking Center (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/18 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Delta Center (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/21 - Spokane, WA @ Fox Theatre (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/23 - Vancouver, BC @ Plaza of Nations (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/24 - Seattle, WA @ Key Arena (w/ Jack Johnson)
- 5/27 - Santa Barbara, CA @ County Bowl (w/ Jack Johnson)