The Barbican is hot tonight. The apparent lack of air con and a sense of pre-gig anticipation mean that when Beth Hart hits her stride the venue has an old fashioned clubby vibe.
An expansive black back-drop, flickering candles on top of the amps, and great sight lines help to create a welcome sense of intimacy between performer and audience. It’s an atmosphere well suited to Beth Hart’s material and she quickly makes a connection with the capacity crowd.
Tonight she gloriously reconfirms the purchase of her songs. Sure she’s got an incredible voice and an emotive vibrato which reaches for the polar opposites of power and fragility, but it’s her confident confessional lyrics that allows her to push herself to the limit.
Unlike most of her contemporaries she unflinchingly gives so much of herself, safe in the knowledge that she’s got both the vocal range and lyrical weight to back it up and commune with her enthusiastic audience.
What sets her apart from her contemporaries is her ability to channel her turbulent past into memorable songs and give deeply personal lyrics a universal feel that transforms her adversarial past into positive self empowerment.
Both the opening ode to her mum ’Mama This One’s For You’ and the later search for reconciliation with her dad on ‘Tell Her You Belong To Me’ feel like a cathartic release in a perfectly paced set that emphasizes the positives.
The contrast between her chic black dress and a right arm full of tattoos signifies a singer with a colourful past who reveals the highs and lows of her journey in confessional story telling mode.
To that end, she tops and tails the show on her own. She rocks out and gets soulful and playful by turns – revelling in the call and response profanity of ‘Trouble (Give Me My Money Back’) and a gutsy ‘Nutbush City Limits’, before capturing the moment on a spell binding ‘St. Teresa’ and extending her vibrato on the equally magnificent ‘Mechanical Heart’.
Her voice strikes the perfect balance between power and control as evidenced by the surprisingly restrained phrasing of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, which is the perfect example of the power of suggestion. When she does hit a soaring note to emphasize lyrical emotion, it’s in sharp contrast to the over extended guitar solo that threatens to dull the impact of her delivery.
Her road tested band enables her to respond to a request for Tom Waits’ ‘Chocolate Jesus’, which she delivers perfunctorily but with a smile, as if to suggest job done, now lets get back to the new album.
She’s equally happy playing flowing piano lines and letting her voice resonate round the hushed theatre on ‘My California’, as she stalking the stage in rock chick mode as her band stretches out.
In between moments of introspection and ebullience she connects through the emotional simplicity of ‘Might As Well Smile’, and gives the uplifting melody an extra push with a subtle vocal inflection.
‘Ugliest House On The Block’ is an unexpected delight, as she reflects on the bad times before embracing a sense of wonder when it all comes good, but adds the caveat that she now worries about keeping the mortgage payments going.
Beth Hart is at the top of her game. The new material fits perfectly, the older chestnuts sparkle, and she illuminates some well chosen covers with a mix of raunch, passion and simply the joy of singing. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by John Bull Rockrpix Live Music Images
Gallery photos by Steve Goudie
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Power Plays w/c 14 October (Mon-Fri)
SANGUINE Ignite (Odyssey Music)
GOODBYE JUNE Switchblade Heart (Earache)
SAINTS OF SIN Nasty Love (indie)
SCARLET REBELS Heal (indie)
FLYING COLORS The Loss Inside (Mascot)
KEYWEST C’est La Vie (indie)
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09:00-12:00 DANGER ZONE Don’t Count On Heroes (Pride & Joy Music)
12:00-13:00 ECLIPSE Paradigm (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 GALLAGHER & LYLE Live at De Montfort Hall, 1977 (The Store For Music)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
ROBIN TROWER In The Line Of Fire (1990)
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