People go to Ben Harper shows for a variety of reasons. Some want to work up a sweat dancing to extended funk jams; some look to be transported by the intricate instrumental interplay of his band, the Innocent Criminals; and some need a dip into the refreshingly bucolic folk-soul he can wring from an acoustic guitar. Live from Mars,
culled from more than 20 separate concerts, offers a little something for each of portion of Harper's constituency -- one disc of power-packed electric performances and a second disc of burnished acoustic work. On the former, Harper shows off his moves as an erotic shaman -- beckoning and purring through a funked-up version of the Marvin Gaye
classic "Sexual Healing" -- as well as his flair for the harder stuff, captured in a raucous ten-minute medley of "Faded" and Led Zeppelin
's "Whole Lotta Love." The Innocent Criminals also acquit themselves mighty well here, nestling into a deep groove on the sultry "The Woman in You" and flashing switchblade-sharp riffs on the raging "Burn One Down." The mood couldn't be more different on the set's second disc, which showcases the quiet power Harper and company are capable of generating without amps turned to 11. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Harper doesn't turn down the intensity when he turns down the volume, a point driven home by a rending version of "Please Bleed" and a thoroughly uplifting take on "The Power of the Gospel." As so often happens during his live performances, Harper takes the listener on some unexpected side trips -- such as an appropriately trippy version of the Verve
's "The Drugs Don't Work" -- but he can always be counted on to keep the scenery interesting.