It started with a clamour of percussion from Bill Ransom as the band brightened the stage at London’s impressive Royal Festival Hall for BETH HART’S sell-out show. Good, it’s best to get the drum solo out of the way early, we decided.
Then the radiant lady appeared behind us. We caught the sight of her reflected light from the gold sequin miniskirt as she crossed the crowd with sensual, slow confidence. The Billie Holiday number “Don’t Explain” came first.
“I’m glad you’re back with us…” Someone hollered. Her ponytail flicked around as she gave the fan a wide smile. Right away we knew, in our hearts, that love has endured.
There was a moment of merriment when it became clear that Beth couldn’t mount the stage.
No matter, we all know she’s a tough lady. So she clambered up, without help. To great applause.
Then she began the plucky Latin number “If I Tell You I love You I’m Lying.” This had little screams and hisses and was reminiscent of something by Henry Mancini. A chirpy tail-twitching number to get the crowd going.
It was not long before Beth led the audience to their toes. “Put your hands in the air...” She invited. “We will have some fun…” So we enjoyed the rocky “For My Friends” with its “Police-style” rhythms. We especially admired and savoured Bob Marinelli’s gummy bass.
“Bang Bang Boom Boom” was a jaunty ditty and an early crowd pleaser. The song was performed with cabaret-style smoothness and the kind of elegant delivery you might expect from a spangly Shirley Bassey.
Soon she took to the candlelit piano. Songs like “I’ll Take Care of You” — a soft-rolling rhythmic ballad — warmed our hearts. Even on the keys, Beth used her neck, throat and face to extract difficult notes from the ether. And her knees shook and bent furiously under the weight of all that emotion.
One of the most moving songs of the evening was “Sister Heroine” written for Sharon. But you might suspect Beth wrote this about the deeper deficiencies in her own life too. Possibly “Goodbye white trash beauty queen...” is the most effective line. It reminded us that we might be everyday people — but we have a big part to play in the history of other peoples lives. Our contribution can be monumental.
“St Teresa” was written before the lady’s canonisation. Is it OK to call her mama? I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. This song reminded us that Beth is also a daughter, sister and wife. Not just our favourite performer. On stage, tonight, she’s a big star. But she needs a hug – like all of us.
After the piano, she grabbed an acoustic guitar for an encouraging clap-along.
There was potential calamity when she dropped a guitar-pick. Beth laughed it off.
The blues rock number “Fat Man” [co-written with Glen Burtnick] had an insistent verse/chorus structure — with immensely satisfying lyrical patterns. It’s the “Come Together” song in her repertoire. This was also her “Trump” song — we kinda guessed there’d be one on the set. “I hope God will guide the mother****er!” She yelled.
“Somedays I do not feel so strong — fishing, cooking, doing things in the garden … That’s all I can manage. Scott shows me the way.” Her husband brings out some water. To prove he is still her rock. Protective.
‘Tell Her You Belong To Me’ is the song about Daddy. He left when she was young. You get the feeling that this traumatic event informed the rest of her life. Beth’s unsteady voice, full of shaky pathos, made us choke too! The hesitant feathers of distress caused an outbreak of goose-bumps in the audience.
Creamy slices of guitar [Jon Nichols] elevated “Love Is A Lie” to another new level. This song was about being hurt by someone you left your unprotected heart open for…
We also had the softly sentimental “Mama This One’s For You.” Beth explained, “One day I felt filled with guilt — so I wrote this quickly and sang it over the phone to my Momma.” Beth played the heart-melting declaration on piano. It was a compassionate statement of love — something all members of the audience, certainly those who have recently lost a mother — could instantly connect with.
“Leave The Light On” was about facing the monsters in the closet. They seem to stay with us, no matter how old we become. “At least — as you get older — life teaches you how to live it…” She tells the crowd.
You can’t avoid comparing Beth to Sarah Vaughan or Dinah Washington: Briny and lively for a moment, reverberating and dramatically capricious the next.
Like those wonderful jazz-blues talents, Hart manages to raise her introspective reflections from a secret box and hold the fears up for all to examine.
She strips bare her soul and exposes imperfection. Yes, the London show was a public confession, a cathartic purge. But we felt purified and delivered by the experience.
Beth’s live show was an observance of beauty, emotion, truth and anguish. Never melancholy or solemn…
A celebration. Her songs honor the strength of love to endure all things.
Following her SOLD-OUT and critically acclaimed November 2016 UK tour, and the overwhelming response to her latest studio album, Fire On The Floor, the Grammy nominated singer-songwriter will embark on what is going to be her biggest UK concert of her career – London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall on Friday 4th May 2018.