I used to turn my nose up at shows at casinos. There was just something about them that screamed has-been to me. Typically, the acts that I would see listed on casino websites were acts that the years had forgotten but I feel like that has changed. On top of that, most of the casino shows I’ve been to have been seated shows which has never really been my jam. I like the freedom of wandering during a show even if that wandering is purely to keep me awake. Fast forward to today and I don’t know what has happened. Maybe casinos (especially the ones up here near the Twin Cities) have really stepped up their booking game or maybe the music I listen to is at that point where the casino circuit is all that’s left for them to do, regardless, I’ve found myself checking out the line-ups at casinos more frequently lately. I also have become fond of having a designated seat at shows to give my feet and my back a break. Long story short, I was excited as I drove about forty minutes south of the cities to Mystic Lake Casino & Hotel for the show on Sunday night.
New Jersey-based The Jack Moves took the stage right around 7:20 and instantly catapulted me into a different time and era. This group has a very 70s disco vibe about them which dazzled and glittered underneath the spotlights of the Mystic Lake Showroom. It was a throwback kind of set with music that really should have been created decades ago yet, the way that The Jack Moves have curated this song and added their flare of funk and almost surf-punk vibes kept the forty-minute set feeling fresh and fun. It’s music to dance to and although the audience was still trickling in as the band played and many stayed glued to their seats, there was an abundance of bobbing heads.
Vocalist Zee Desmondes had this very peculiar way of performing that I found to be super intimate. The way he sang to the microphone, instead of just into it, really added a sense of razzle dazzle to an already sparkling set. Add the super solid band behind him that was perfectly in the pocket throughout the night while still giving listeners this feeling of organic chemistry and you were left with an opening set that laid out the red carpet for the headliner perfectly while also making sure to turn some heads. Sunday night’s performance was The Jack Moves’ first time in Minnesota but I think it’s safe to assume that those who were smart enough to get to the show on time will be begging to have the band back.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I feel like casinos have always had this stigma of hosting has-been musicians to me but to call headliner Ben Harper a has-been would be a a ginormous mistake. Sure, Ben has been doing this for decades. At just over fifty years old, I feel like the majority of Ben’s life has been in the spotlight but, thankfully, that has not changed a single thing about this man, his mission, or his music.
Before Ben and his band could even jump into what would turn into around a twenty-song set, the audience jumped out of their seats and gave them a standing ovation. I feel like that, right there, really lays out the scene for what was to come. The fact that this band couldn’t even start a song without a roar of applause from the admiring audience really says it all but, as the audience settled back into their seats, the set started and I was left completely floored.
Instead of jumping into a full band sound, Ben and his entire band (aka The Innocent Criminals) stood at microphones lining the front of the stage and started with an a cappella track. I’m no fool. I know this is nothing new and I have seen plenty of acts do stunning a cappella tracks live but this was different. Maybe it was the fact that the entire band was joining in which just showed the sheer amount of talent on the stage before me or maybe it was the amount of heart that came with every word leaving me literally lost for words and wondering if I was going to cry, regardless, this was one hell of a way to kick off the set.
Throughout the night, there were moments when all five of the men on stage would stop what they were playing and break into goosebump-inducing harmonies. At one point, Ben admitted that the band behind him could sing him out of the building and even asked the sound techs to make sure that his band was louder than him. It was a small moment in a lengthy set full of amazing moments but this small moment will surely stick with me. I see so many bands that really let the front person take the spotlight and run with it. Ben Harper is one of those people that could easily steal that spotlight but, the amount of respect that he showed his bandmates really spoke volumes to me.
Another thing that spoke louder than Ben’s few words to the audience was the way this smile would creep across his face when the band really nailed a part. Obviously, the band killed the entire set, I mean, these guys are true professionals, but there were just these moments that seemed ever so slightly more impactful and monumental, and seeing the subtle smile creep across Ben’s face when those moments happened gave the already organic-feeling set a very honest and raw feeling.
The show on Sunday night may have been a sold-out seated show but that didn’t mean that people were sitting. With every song that passed, a couple more people would stand to dance along to the eclectic blues-folk-soul-rock-singer-songwriter music that Ben Harper was giving them. Don’t get me wrong, there were no mosh pits to report on at the show but there were a lot of people dancing like nobody was watching because, well, nobody was. All eyes were on Ben Harper and his amazing band throughout the night but I loved seeing people doing what the music moved them to do and loved the fact that, like Ben’s music, there were no rules to follow at this show other than just appreciate the music flowing through the speakers and respect those around you (which were both accomplished).
I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Ben Harper fan but I have been a passive listener for decades. It’s not my typical cup of tea but it’s music that I put on on snowy Sunday mornings when I just want a couple of minutes to breathe and chill. Through all of these years, I never had the opportunity to see him live so seeing him on Sunday was a true treat. The fact that he and his band left me with such a flawless and beautiful night was just the cherry on top.