When the choice of intro music is ‘Boats ‘N Hoes’ from the (robbed by the Academy Awards panel, robbed I tell you) Step Brothers movie blaring out at full volume, then you know that it’s going to be a special evening. When the third song of the evening is a spine-tingling version of ‘When the Levee Breaks’ then that merely reinforces that opening statement. And when the headlining artist makes her appearance out of the darkness at the back of the hall and spends the vast majority of the opening song walking through the crowd offering up high-fives and fist-bumps while she gives a vocal performance that reinforces the fact that she is without a doubt THE best vocalist – of any genre or any gender – currently treading the boards, then that my friends has all the hallmarks of a special evening of the highest order. But with Beth Hart would you expect anything less?
The opening act on the tour, and providing a short-but-well-received set, is rising blues artist Connor Selby. Performing acoustically alongside fellow guitarist Joe Anderton (who is not only sporting a cool pair of shades – and looks like a young Richard Ashcroft – but happens to be wearing a replica Scotland football jersey, from Euro ’96 if I’m not mistaken), the Essex-based singer-songwriter takes the allotted time to acquaint the audience with his debut album of which the deluxe edition has just been released via Provogue/Mascot Label Group. And within a few seconds, it’s hard to match the older, earthier vocals coming out of Selby on the likes of ‘Falling In Love Again’ with the fresh-faced lad in front of us. He’s all about the blues and with each song the applause from the audience grows and ‘The Deep End’ and ‘Emily’ in particular strike a chord. Anderton just about steals the limelight at the end though by kissing the badge on his football jersey, and when the set ends, both are on their way to the merch stand to press the flesh. Further investigation of the said debut album is mandatory.
A Beth Hart show is unlike others in so many ways; it’s deeply spiritual for one, and at times it’s confessional. But the overriding message that people might take from an evening in the company of Beth is of survival, of the triumph of the human spirit, of being tenacious and not giving in. And of having someone by your side who is totally unwilling to throw the towel in when the going gets rough; and as Beth alludes to on many occasions – the going certainly got rough for a while there. Another fairly unique aspect of a Beth Hart show is the barriers between the artist and the audience so prevalent at the average gig come crashing down as soon as the house lights dim. Her amazing band and those operating the lights need to be on their toes as Beth constantly changes things up and makes several trips out into the audience, one memorable moment tonight takes place when she notices a few empty seats near the front and walks up to the back of the auditorium to bring some people with a poor view down to fill the seats and one of the guys she picks asks if he can bring his girlfriend with him or was the offer just for him – “Yes, of course, you can bring your girlfriend!” replies Beth. Simple things like this break that imaginary barrier that so many other artists seem comfortable having in place.
One of these interactions with the crowd provided what was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening – which is quite a bold statement considering how many highlights there were. During a lull between songs, Beth is talking and there are a few shouts from the crowd for ‘Leave the Light On’; a deep cut from Beth’s earlier back catalogue and one of her most heartfelt, starkest moments. She stops and says “Okay, I’ll do a little bit of it because there has been a few shouts for it”, a “little bit” soon turns into her walking down the stairs from the stage and into the front few rows to deliver an acapella performance of the track where upon hearing it this reviewer discovered that not only can neck hairs and arm hairs stand on end; but leg hairs can. One of those had-to-be-there-moments where you could have heard a pin drop, and Beth hardly needed any amplification as her voice alone filled the room with ease. Watching her walk along the front rows and up the aisle as she poured her heart out was a jaw-dropping moment and in true this-is-live-unrehearsed spirit, once she reached the aisle, the follow spotlight that was illuminating her every move captured perfectly the moment when a punter was coming back from the toilet and was trying to get back to his seat in the very row that Beth was blocking! The look on the guy’s face was a picture and as soon as the spotlight caught him, he tried his best to get out of the way – nope, you sir have an up close and personal Beth Hart gig of your very own! As soon as the song ends, an emotional Beth declares “I don’t always play that song…and I’ve never done it acapella before…so thank you to whoever shouted for it!”. Amen to that.
As previously touched on highlights are plentiful; ‘Waterfalls’ is an early standout, as is ‘When the Levee Breaks’ which quickly follows on, and with last year’s ‘A Tribute to Led Zeppelin’ still featuring heavily on the DGM Towers playlist, it is a real thrill to hear Beth unleashing her inner Robert Plant on this one (ditto a stunning version of ‘No Quarter’ that segued into ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’) and would it be too much to ask that someone gets Beth in a room with Jimmy Page to make some music together? ‘Love Is a Lie’ seems to be an audible from Beth as does ‘War on My Mind’, the kilted guitar tec (nice touch) for the amazing Jon Nichols comes on a few times to exchange guitars only for Beth to suggest a different song and the tec walks back off again into the wings. The connection between Beth and her incredible band is almost telepathic and although it is her name on the tickets, this is very much a band in the truest meaning of the word; after yet another killer drum performance from Bill Ransom (whom Beth introduces as “Bill Motherfucking Ransom”) Beth jokes with him: “You’re so good I’m gonna chuck this piano at you!”…and with her long-time guitarist Nichols she jokes: “Fuckin’ Jon Nichols…can you play or what!”. Completing the line-up is Tom Lilly who just about steals the show when he breaks out the upright bass on a beautiful version of ‘War in My Mind’ which comes as part of an acoustic interlude that has all four performers playing right at the end of the stage, giving the front few rows a night to remember.
At times, tonight was almost like an out-of-body experience, hearing ‘LA Song (Out of This Town)’ and ‘House of Sin’ from the hard-to-find 1999 album ‘Screamin’ for My Supper’ will do that to ya, as will the gut-wrenching cover of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ – Beth earlier described the sad and unexpected loss of Jeff Beck as “…unbearable…” – and what Beth Hart has done is put a marker down for every other artist that follows on, and said, “beat that…”. This one is going to be hard to top.
Remaining tour dates:
Birmingham, Symphony Hall – Thursday 9 March 2023
Sheffield, City Hall – Saturday 11 March 2023
Manchester, Bridgewater Hall – Monday 13 March 2023
Newcastle, City Hall – Wednesday 15 March 2023
London, Palladium – Solo Performance – Friday 17 March 2023
London, Palladium – Full Band Performance – Saturday 18 March 2023 – SOLD OUT
Brighton, Dome – Tuesday 21 March 2023
Tickets available here.
Review – Dave
Live images – Callum Scott