Sometimes, just sometimes, true magic happens. Giving possibly one of the greatest performances seen at the legendary venue, Beth Hart astounded the sold-out crowd on Saturday with a show that will go down in history and managed to capture that oh so elusive lightning in a bottle. For someone who sets such high watermarks with her shows, this particular appearance exceeded everyone’s expectations, even possibly Hart’s, as she and her band seared the souls of every single audience member, leaving them with a night never to be forgotten.
Photo by Phil Honley
There’s a real connection between singer and audience, all beautifully illustrated by Hart walking through the stalls as she sang opening number ‘There is Your Heart’, stopping for hugs and selfies with delighted punters as she made her way to the stage to join guitarist Jon Nichols. It was a striking opening and one that set the tone for the rest of the evening. It can’t be overstated just what a stunning voice the singer has, equally full of pain as it is love and hope, the rich and multi-coloured hues forged through a life lived.
There have been very few blues and soul singers since Aretha Franklin and Billie Holliday to have truly sold a song the way that Hart does and in that there is a genuine quality at once dazzlingly brilliant but also stripped of any pretense or ‘performance’. Madonna may be in town, charging the price of a family holiday for tickets at the Palladium and wowing critics with her ‘show’ but here you get the real deal with heart, soul and genuine tears.
After delivering a soulful cover of Slackwax’s ‘Close to My Fire’ it was time to step the tempo up with the rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Waterfalls’, Hart’s voice a primal thing, powerful and full of menace as Nichols’s guitar snarls likes a wildcat. ‘Rub Me For Luck’ surely stakes Hart’s claim for the role of future James Bond film theme provider, the song fully of sweeping grandeur and a subtle drama, Tom Lilly’s beautifully lyrical bass underpinning it all and a fun and sassy retelling of Tom Wait’s ‘Chocolate Jesus’ is suitably twisted, the perfect cover that brings together two masters of storytelling in three perfect minutes.
Photo by Phil Honley
It’s impossible not to warm to Hart as a person, beyond just the simple appreciation for her talent, as she seems to engender a sense of ‘oneness’ with each and every member of the audience, the famous theatre seemingly transformed into a front parlor where you’re being entertained by a few close friends.
There’s something of a Billy Joel vibe to the mid / late 70’s piano driven rock of ‘Bad Woman Blues’, a high octane romp that sees the singer sell every syllable of the song before conjuring a sublime slow blues in the form of Bobby Bland’s ‘I’ll Take Care of You’ that is capped by a hugely effective solo by Nichols. A buoyant ‘Good as it Gets’ lightens the mood before Hart strips her soul bare in a performance that was arguably the highpoint of the evening with the title track to her latest album.
Although it’s writing and performing most prove cathartic, when she introduces and performs ‘War in My Mind’ you can still see the struggles that she has to deal with every day, the constant fight against the demons of mental health. So painful that you almost have to turn your eyes away, the song cuts to the bone and is one of the most powerfully moving and affecting songs written on the subject.
There really is nowhere to hide as you peer inside her soul and whilst your heart breaks you can but be thankful that this song exists, giving hope to those suffering with similar issues, providing some comfort that they’re not alone. In an evening that’s celebratory and raucous, moments like this a full of a reverential hush so quiet that you can almost hear a pin drop. Absolutely stunning.
Photo by Simon Green
In a beautifully planned switch of mood, ‘Sugar Shack’, a tongue in cheek and salacious tale that Hart said embarrassed her husband, stood in the wings, saying that he wished she wasn’t quite as wild as the character she plays in the lyrics., rocked with high octane AOR. Deftly weaving the highs and lows, the devastating ‘Tell her You Belong to Me’ came next, a love song and olive branch to the now repaired relationship with her father. The familial theme continued with ‘Sister Dear’ and ‘Mama this One’s for You’, both love songs but with the former once again talking about mending a fracture caused by misunderstanding and time passed without communication.
Some very real situations were tackled with frankness but, above all, there was hope shot through it, the evening never settling into navel gazing introspection. Solo, with just piano and voice, ‘Baddest Blues’ filled the hall and when Lilly strode back on stage to accompany with some upright bass the audience were treated to the jazzy and acoustically chilled torch song of ‘Without Words in the Way’, conjuring a Summer breeze in Paris.
This led perfectly into a four–song acoustic section where the duo was rejoined by Nichols and drummer Bill Ransom for stripped down versions of the tracks that worked perfectly in that particular setting, the arrangements adding new light through older windows. ‘Baby Shot Me Down’ had a wonderful Latin feel and Hart and Ransom fooled around with the mics and percussion ‘If I Tell You I Love You’ by Melody Gardot, obviously enjoying the natural rapport between the musicians onstage.
Spanish Lullabies’ had a suitably sun-soaked feel and lead the way to a slight change in the planned set where Hart decided that they should try closer ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ as an acoustic, not electric, version of the Etta James classic. Despite the spontaneity of this, everyone adapted seemingly instantly to the change and the song seemed naturally to gain extra power and sensuality in this form, raw edges and exposed emotions showing more than ever.
There was only going to be one response to such a jaw dropping performance and, sure enough, every one of the audience gathered there rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation so loud it dislodged flakes of plaster from the ceiling. Sadly, with time ticking fast away, there was only time enough for one encore in the form of ‘Woman Down’ but by that time the victory had been decisively won and indelible memories made. One of the finest performers on the planet, nobody does it better than Beth Hart.
Review by Paul Monkhouse