Review by Manny Manson for MPM
Having seen that American songstress Beth Hart had cancelled her previous tour due to the hateful global pandemic, it was great to see that her long awaited visit to these shores had no arrived with a short tour of only five dates.
Tonight’s show is the third so any nerves and ring rust will hopefully be a thing of the past.
None of the dates are close to me so I left the invite to cover the show to those closer at hand. A throw away comment to editor, Darren, told me that no one had stepped up to the plate. Here we go, I felt duty bound to step in and that’s how I found myself driving to Cambridge to cover this extraordinary voice.
I last covered a Beth Hart show back in 2018 at the Royal Concert Hall. That night she had Kris Barras playing an acoustic set in support. Tonight, we have American guitar protégée Arielle, likened to a young Eva Cassidy and even Mama Cass with her 60’s, 70’s west coast vibe. This was looking at being a night well worth the 3hr round trip.
Arielle maybe a name fresh to these shores but this young star is no stranger to recording and music in general. She started at a young age by singing in the Peninsula Girls Chorus of California at the age of 5. After being bought a guitar by her father at the age of 10, she went on to attend the Musicians Institute in L.A.
Her musical education then carried on at London’s Institute of Contemporary Performance. She has toured extensively since 2010 opening for the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Eric Johnson, Michael Angelo Batio, Uli Jon Roth and Gregg Allman. Brian May chose her for a key role in his rock opera ‘We Will Rock You’ and has since gone on to have a signature model of her trade mark two tone guitar made by BMG. So, a young lady (31) with a strong pedigree behind her.
Taking to the stage Arielle stands alone, from her neck hangs her acoustic guitar referred to as ‘Cali’. This guitar dwarfs her diminutive stature. That is soon forgotten as she starts to sing, the guitar strikes out with a woeful tone matched by her delicate lyric of ‘Beautiful Rain’ for the Dimension/Suspension album.
Full of harmonics and repetitive finger pickings, it’s a great little song about memories inspired by the rain drops on your face. Nice.
Pure Imagination follows, that tribute to Gene Wilder from the Willy Wonka and The Chocolate factory film of 1971. With its strong Streisand vibe, Arielle knocks it out of the park, this seqways into Devils Disguise and a guitar change to Two Tone her favourite custom-built guitar. Its back story is interesting and worthy of watching Arielle’s YouTube video explaining it.
This Christmas holidays sounding vibe with its almost Waltz like time signature, is a laid-back lament with some sweet guitar playing, finger tapping and slides galore, Arielle proves to those of us who are geekie enough, that she knows her way around a guitar neck.
Moon River is up next and we have another guitar change to her 12 String Rickenbacker that’s she calls ‘Colin’. This beautiful song written by Henry Mancini highlights her stunning vocal, haunting pure highs as she massages our souls with her talent and vulnerability. She has stated that this is probably her favourite song of all time, her take on it it’s understandably why.
Her far too short set is finished off with first, ‘Voices in My Head’ from her Ep Mind. This has a bit more of a rockier theme to it and would be great with her full electric band behind her. Complete with tasty licks on her favourite guitar she shows another side to her lamenting ballads. And finally, ‘Magick Again’ this ballad with its almost medieval back beat vibe is a great closer to the set. A short but sweet outing for this fine musician.
I didn’t feel cheated in that she never played that Eric Johnson inspired instrumental ‘Take ii’ or ‘Take me Down’ the Vince Gill classic. In fact, it wasn’t until I got a copy of the set list, I realised their absence. With picking up the gig in such short notice, I believe she had only 7 days’ notice.
Chatting to Steve on the Merch’ I’m assured she will be touring next year with her full electric band. Now that’s one for the diary for sure.
After a short break so us oldies can get watered, we’re back in waiting for the grand lady herself. Beth Hart needs no introduction. The house is packed, folk have travelled in excess of 4hrs to get to this, one of only five shows this year.
As the lights dim, the band walk out on stage, tonight we have Jon Nichols on guitar, Tom Lilly on Bass and the man with the best view in the house, Bill Ransom on the sparkly green drum kit.
Striking up into ‘If I Tell You I Love You’, Beth walks on in red sparkly trousers and a black shoelace strap vest top, her arms are barred revealing that awesome flower tattoo (cover up by top tattoo artist, Greg James) on her right arm. If you didn’t know it was a 16hr session that hurt! but covers some work that was done during Beth’s darker times.
The crowd are cheering and clapping as she smiles and takes up centre stage, immediately transformed into an Edith Piaf type character as we get transported to a seedy French Jazz Café. Beth’s sultry, controlled vocals twisting and wriggling through the hooks, as she floats through the haze she has the crowd in the palm of her hand, we’re just seconds into the night!
‘Saved’ is up next. This gospel inspired song first recorded by LaVern Baker back in 1960, and a favourite from the Beth and Joe Bonamassa’s album, Black Coffee, see’s Beth singing about a past life that was running away with her, taken from the view point, some-what tongue in cheek of being stood on a soap box shouting about being reformed! Famously covered by the King, Elvis Presley, and no doubt an influence in how Beth puts this song across to the audience. It gets the Corn Exchange bouncing and clapping along.
‘Waterfalls’ has the crowd singing back to Beth. She struts around the stage smiling as she emotively cranks out another belter. The crowd are quiet, hanging on her every, vibrato dripping word as she belts out each powerful line, the mic often at her waist such is the strength of that voice. Clearly on form she kneels on the front of the stage as she encourages the crowd to sing along. The tune finishes with her visiting drummer, Bill Ransom as she crouches in front of the kick drum, Nichols rips out a subtly scorching riff as the song builds to its crescendo finale.
Going across to the baby grand we have that fun tune with its slight western guitar twang, ‘Bang Bang, Boom Boom’ she, plays seductively with this number, her eyes full of mischief as she clearly is enjoying herself.
‘Jazz Man’ has Beth back at the piano again as she explores this slightly different musical avenue, one in which she discovered a few years ago playing with Joe Bonamassa. Vocalist Melody Gardo is cited as being Beth’s favourite living artist, and it was she who inspired Beth to explore the Jazz genre.
The tune a narrative of pure fantasy, it’s about her exploring and finding something outside her comfort zone, on finding Jazz that was outcast, rebellious and evil, anything that you don’t understand is deemed wicked but actually turns out to be the best place to be, new and fun. There’s even a bit of ‘scat’ (jazz singing with nonsense syllables) thrown in for good measure.
The night follows the same format. We have a set list that reads like a greatest hits, over two hours of some of the best vocals to be heard. Containing numbers from 1999 right up to 2019’s ‘War in my Head’.
‘I’ll Take care of you’, a slow blues ballad, has Nichols on guitar front and centre for a sublime solo dripping with feeling and emotion, Beth is locked in the moment as she is swaying and grooving to this outrageous bit of guitar work.
‘Rub me for Luck’ from the latest album has Beth back at the keys, her breathy vocal oozing around the hall as she slowly delivers this nasty song, sounding at times like it should be a James Bond Anthem, I’ve got goose bumps with the delivery, precise and on point, what a cracker of a live tune.
I’ve got my eyes closed, Daniel Craig is racing around in his Aston, saving the girl, explosions and gun fire everywhere as he saves the girl from the villain, wow how powerful is this song. I’ve not had that happen to me by a song for a very long time! That’s me on my feet clapping and cheering, stunning tune!
Beth goes into a quick narrative about the next song being about mental Illness and how it affected her. She tells of a pastor who has been a pillar of strength for her, declared that she was moving parish’s much to Beth’s horror, she upped, shrieked and ran out of the congregation.
The song is what she wrote when she got home. It’s about the constant battles that she is conquering on a daily basis, the song is ‘War in My Mind’. Very quickly Beth lifts the mood with ‘Lifts You Up’ a gospel vibe, has her playing the crowd, a great song after War, its’ as the label describes, uplifting, to the side I can see we have a few dancers, always great to see. The venue is letting them as they’re out of the way and not bothering anyone. The venue has been very Covid aware so hats off to them for letting the public be sensible in enjoying themselves.
‘Without Words’, complete with Double Bass and Beth once again at the piano delivering another masterpiece of vocal control, her voice pure and ringing, the vibrato controlled as she sings slightly higher in her register, the emotion evident in her facial expressions as she and Tom Lilley on Double Bass dance tenderly through this lovely song of love and longing.
Again,as has been the way all night, we have a tempo change and two of my favourites ‘Sugar Stack’ and ‘Fat Man’, this could be called my dealer as that’s how she referred to her dealer. Anyway, these have the band grooving as they dig in and enjoy these more upbeat tunes.
Beth is rocking it, looking at the audience with that look, her eyes are clear and shining, she’s totally in command as she grooves, arms twisting as she gyrates, my god the girl is on fire! I love these songs, simple in structure but what a vehicle for her voice, her head is nowhere near the microphone and there’s no drop off in sound volume or quality. Sat at the front has Beth with acoustic give us a rendition of the slow Boogie Man. Nichols hitting the Wah Wah pedal and a warm fat simply solo drives this tune forward, Beth quiet as she strums along totally lost in the tune as she riffs around the melody,
‘Tell her you Belong to Me’ finishes the set. A brutally strong song that has previously delivered unbelievable emotions, written for her dad and the women that he left Beth’s mum for. A heartfelt tune that has the crowd silent again, a few tears already showing in some eyes as I look around. We are surround by true loyal fans as they cheer and clap, some standing to do so.
Beth Thanks the crowd
‘Thankful’ a tune about getting broken and rebuilding and learning from it, starts the Encore, a delicate little tune that goes down well, this is followed by ‘My California’ and ‘Caught Out in The Rain’. These see Beth in powerhouse form, that growl and vibrato controlled and deliciously dripping with emotion. As she moves, looking at the floor, taking inspiration and her time. Nichols guitar is singing, each pluck of a string seems to resonate through Beth’s body as she feels the music. Unbelievable! She begs god not to take her man, she doesn’t need her microphone! Her voice is incredible!
The night finishes with ‘No Place Like Home’ a keyboard visit again. A slow song as she tickles the ivories, alone, the band have left the stage to leave her to finish off. Singing about home has thoughts of yesteryear, of being young with you parents, safe and sound. A heart felt tune. You can almost hear the swallowing back of tears, I’m using my stars n stripes ‘kerchief to wipe the dust out of my eyes, that’s the problem with old buildings!
And that’s a wrap, as they say
Beth has yet again, delivered a night of raw emotion, of love and loss, joy, pain, discovery, addiction and self-finding, but ultimately unity. People from all walks, social backgrounds and corners are united under the one roof to explore, enjoy and be entertained by a fellow human being who has fought her demons and wears the journey on her sleeve for the world to see, and expresses it through the form of Love and Music
Beth Hart you are an inspiration, thank you.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM