On her April/May 2018 UK Tour BETH HART treads a narrow line between brazen-trashy and tender vulnerability. She’s a street angel with the mind of an innocent and the body of a hustler. Her achievement is that she can make such contrasted assets worthy of our faith.
So, at Reading this Monday — in the concrete magnificence of the world-famous Hexagon theatre — we saw her [literally] bouncing around the stage in her most precipitous heels and the smallest-of-small dresses, looking bolder, more daring, more confident and more cheeky-sexy than ever before… In fact, on this tour, she comes across as the biggest-star on the international blues-rock circuit. However, she’s also a tortured soul, pained by self-doubt and hesitancy. And she’s very, very grateful.
She appreciates the audience and each of the handclaps she receives, she appreciates the attention she gets, the love of her mother, the devotion of her husband, her wonderful musical treasures and she appreciates the gift of life itself.
A member of the audience commented: “She is like Amy… if Amy was with us now…” And although that notion is plausibly true — Beth Hart is much more than a voice on legs: She has journeyed hard to become a much-accomplished musician, she’s a brilliant pianist, guitarist & songwriter, she’s a private person who lives an isolated domestic life, she’s a credible wife and a grateful daughter… and, above all, she’s a lover of God. She tells us this often.
So this show is about cleaning away demons, and this is done — for all to witness — in her songs. And you might guess that this public overflow is restorative, not only for her but also for her public. So at Reading her performance is filled with confession and contrition at every turn — it feels like an act of reconciliation. She asks us, the audience, to help her find the inner strength she needs to overcome the pain of memory. We join in the solemnization.
She jaunts onto a stage that’s illuminated like a Catholic mass — with flickering votives on the piano-altar and offertory candles in the corners — to perform with the strength & courage of a prize- fighter. Yet when she gets sentimental, when she sings those piano-ballad cameos, she squeezes every last teardrop from our eyes. Such songs twist our heart-strings into painful knots.
The show began with the fallible minister of love swaying and circling the stage for “Love Gangster” with all its “Live and Let Die” similarities. And here the darling, sacrificial, pure-hearted lamb is a sassy showgirl and a daring operator.
But later she tells of her first religious charismatic experience at a meeting of the Baptist Revival, describing it as “revival rock ‘n’ roll…” before she launches into the jubilant rejoice of “Spirit of God.” This contrasts dramtically with the yee-haws and hollers for “Bang Bang Boom Boom” with those lyrics: “I’ll be Bonnie, you be Clyde, rock and roll suicide” — you have to admit she gives British superstar Adele one helluva run-for-her-money.
She describes how her husband Scotty (who brings a patched guitar to stage) rescued her from danger, and with her song “With You Everyday” we detect, for the first time in the show, her trademark trembling and timid vibrato that brings to mind the arid coloratura of Maria Callas.
And “Setting Me Free” — about finding a key inside oneself to release self-imposed shackles — and performed while sat at the piano, reminded us of Elton John’s “Harmony.” But, unlike Sir Elton’s ballad, this one’s not about sensitive desperation, but about optimisticly launching oneself.
She sits on the edge of stage, she lounges and she lunges, she shakes, slinks and manoeuvres… and all the while the voice of burnt coffee and almond butter is unyoked without any obvious physical or mental effort… it’s clear to see she’s relaxed on stage as anyone could be.
Although she confesses she got stressed-out once by a TV documentary that asserted sociopaths could turn into psychopaths [she freely admits to sociopathic traits]… Her antidote was to write [and execute] a song about the subject. So her “Boogeyman” was played on nervy-jangly semi-acoustic guitar, and she threw her head back to push-out notes of affliction and remedy.
When she turned back to the piano, she delved once again into Catholicism with the resounding “St. Teresa.” It is a prayer about how God does good things… although we sometimes feel we are nourished by misery, evil and the sick of our own minds. The disturbed state continued with the weirdly psychedelic “Spiders In My Bed” and its pointy guitars and rattlesome rhythms.
A shouting fan asks her to perform Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.” She says “I dunno, we haven’t rehearsed it… I might forget parts… I’m not a brain-surgeon you know.” But her rendition, although it had a precarious false start, was really impressive and, possibly, the best moment in this incredibly exciting set.
Only once, just once, did I think that perhaps things were artificial or contrived. I admit that I doubted her sincerity when she shed open tears for her Mama who’d come “All this way…” to see her. Was it disingenuous stagecraft? Was it a clever bit of scenery rigging by a master manipulator/illusionist? NO because wow! my doubts were turned to sobs of delight when her song began: “Mama This One’s For You.” It was so touching it couldn’t possibly have been the work of a trickster.
So this commendably skilled artist offered up dramatic jazz-rock and country poppy blues…though she seemed always ready to fall. But, of course, she never actually tumbled. The show was elegant, brave, passionate and, of course, totally unforgettable.
Words: @neilmach 2018 ©
Main Picture Credit: Will Carter/Two Finger Media
FRONT & CENTER — Her first Live Release in 13 years — is available now, reviewed here.
April/May 2018 UK Tour — remaining dates
TUESDAY 1st MAY 2018
LONDON ROYAL ALBERT HALL
FRIDAY 4th MAY 2018
== SOLD OUT ==
CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL
SATURDAY 5th MAY 2018