A deep winter’s night is almost perfect, dry but with a sharp piercing coldness to bring on a slightly melancholic mood. This is because none other than the legendary Beth Hart is bringing her soulful blues to the Ulster Hall in Belfast.
The iconic building is packed early as everyone makes themselves comfortable in this all seated gig. The anticipation is palpable as the lights go down and the stage is lit up. Tonight The Davy Watson Band will be supporting and the cheers go up for this three piece local band.
Many fans of Davy Watson and his group are excited to see them again, whilst those who are seeing them for the first time are about to become fans. Kicking off with “Soapbox”, “Only Love”, and “You’ll Take My Blues” instantly hit home with their deep bluesy style, full of catchy riffs and Davy’s vocals full of power. On they go with their set that just lifts everyone into a totally different plain, with songs like “One World”, “Belfast to LA” “When You Need Somebody”.
Interspersed amongst the songs Davy and the band chat to the audience and Davy explains some of the songs proving his pedigree and source of talent. They paly in a relaxed easy and chilled manner whilst producing a tight musical performance that can’t help but soothe the savage soul with foot tapping rhythms and emotionally charged lyrics. It’s a short set but powerful. If you weren’t moved then you have no emotion at all. The Davy Watson band are a group that have to be seen and heard.
The audience lap it up and explode with appreciation as they finish up.
The anticipation grows even more, if The Davy Watson Band are this good, what awaits those present with the headliner, Beth Hart? Everyone soon found out, and it was an experience and a half.
Beth Hart and her band enter onto the stage to a backing track of gospel proportions to a roof raising applause. It was immediately clear that the place is filled to the brim with Beth fans.
Walking up to the mic the band plays and immediately you are struck with awe. Beth’s voice, in tempo with the band, commands the room for attention and perfectly right too. Her voice is sublimely mesmerising and feels like a mixture of Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and so much more. You can almost feel the very soul of blues, soul and Mowtown transcend itself into a one woman freight train of vocal dominance. Songs are belted out but each syllable just caresses the air. There is a high toned huskiness that just drips honey.
Each and every song she sang had depth, emotion, meaning and history, like “Sinners Song”, “I surrender”, “Bad Woman Blues” and even her cover of Tom Waites “Chocolate Jesus”. The raw power just hits home, with soothing emotional sweetness filled with tender melancholy.
Her composure throughout was relaxed, easy going and fully ion tune with the audience, even coming several times to the edge iof the stage and just sitting there legs hanging down as she spoke to people or sang her nightingale like heart out.
“Try A Little Harder” and “Tell Her You Belong To Me” reflect her complicated relationship with her father as she describes before each song the context, making each whispered, screamed and throaty note in her vocals hit home that little bit harder.
Here, in this room, she laid herself bare, both vulnerable and incredibly strong at the same time. “War In My Mind” is a tale of her battle with her mental health then she tells a quick tale of wanting to sing and be loud in church but couldn’t until she stumbled into a Baptist revival church before launching into “Spirit Of God”. “A Second Longer” was an ironic song as she described herself writing it about a psychiatric ward before she ever darkened the door of one.
The band are very clearly incredibly accomplished musicians and the way they interact with each other shows the love and respect they have for each other. This is one tight family on the road.
Her solo songs on acoustic or piano included a beautiful catchy and flighty “Spiders In My Bed”, emotional “Sister Dear” and “I Need A Hero”, which she dedicate to her husband, who came out at the end and gave her a beautifully heart warming hug much to the appreciation of the audience.
“Without Words Getting In The way” was just a song full of raw beauty as was “St Teresa”. The audience at monmets were overwhelmed with emotion and every so often a member walking up and interacting with Beth, which she took her stride with an earthy aplomb. She talked to the audience and listened to them, at one stage with a cheeky laugh “I don’t understand what you’re saying, but I love you and God bless you”. The audience laughed with her, cried with her and were enraptured with her.
Her show is not just a performance or an audience, it is an experience of religious proportions. Your emotions are hit time and time again as her voice hammers home the passion behind her delivery. You feel as if you are taking part in a personal journey along with Beth as her story telling is full of charm and relatable to any one who has gone through a tough patch in their life.
Finishing with “Spanish Lullaby” and “I’ll Take Care Of You” Beth, and her band, received a full standing ovation, and deservedly so.
This will be one of the rawest, and emotionally closest shows you will ever attend as Davy Watson beautifully and expertly lays the soulful blues foundation whilst Beth builds a mansion of blusey delights that will have you gaze, mouth open in awe and wonder. It will take a very tough soul to not have some moistness in their eyes by the end of the night.
This truly was a unique, awe inspiring, vivid and genuinely authentic musical evening. To be absolutely honest, it is one of the most difficult shows to describe as words really don’t do it justice, it has to be experienced in person. Just go see Beth Hart. It will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.
Review by Ivor Whitten
Photography by Darren Mcveigh