The blues is more popular than ever, yet with its mainstream acceptance, the raw emotion of this most emotive musical genre is frequently sublimated. In many cases, the music might sound like the blues, but it doesn’t feel like it’s still got blues.
Words and Pictures: Andy Rawll
Cover Photo: Christie Goodwin
That’s why every Beth Hart gig is so eagerly anticipated. She’s an extraordinary musician, with the unique power to make her audience laugh, sigh, sing and cry. Her soulful songs embody the blues, yet to categorise her as a blues artist,is to unnecessarily compartmentalise her talent as a songwriter and performer.
When she sings, it emanates from the depths of her soul and renders the cavernous expanse of the hallowed hall of Albert into a haven of raw intimacy and heartfelt solace.
Tonight’s performance was special as not only was Beth’s mother in the audience, but the show was being filmed. At first, this seemed a little curious, as the excellent ‘Front And Center, Live From New York’ was released only three weeks ago. However, on closer inspection, it makes total sense.
That CD/DVD captures Beth in the relaxed and intimate surroundings of the 200 capacity Iridium Jazz Club, and provides a fine souvenir of her 2017 tour promoting her most recent studio album ‘Fire On The Floor’, plus selected back catalogue gems such as ‘Leave The Light On’. By contrast, the daunting scale of London’s 5,000 capacity Royal Albert Hall demanded a performance worthy of the venue’s venerable history and Beth Hart yet again delivered in fearless and inspired style and that has now been captured for perpetuity.
Better still, the 25 song setlist included only five that appear on ‘Front And Center’, making the prospect of this next video release even more enticing.
With a career-spanning, soul-bearing set from the scary ‘Spiders In My Bed’ from her 1996 debut, ‘Immortal’, to the fiery ‘Baby Shot Me Down’ from 2016s ‘Fire On The Floor’, deep feelings, traumatic memories and Hart-felt emotions were shared through cathartic songs that reveal a vulnerable woman whose triumph over adversity we revere and whose inspiring honesty we treasure.
Despite the auspicious occasion, there was no parade of special guests or sequence of populist cover versions, yet in many ways that made the experience even more jaw-droppingly special. This was epitomised by the stunning opening song ‘As Long As I Have A Song’, which was sung acapella as Beth entered from rear of the arena and paced slowly but surely towards the stage.
Backed by a subtle yet tasteful trio of musicians, many of the songs may have been acoustic, yet the atmosphere was electric. There was simply no need to embellish such a beautiful performance. A perfect example, was the four-song encore. There was no bombastic, confetti-canon festooned rock’n’roll finale – what we got was far more impactful, with Beth seated at her piano, head back, eyes wide, voice set to stun and heart laid bare.
At first, reducing the audience to a hushed swoon with Ray Charles’ redemptive ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ and building to a tumultuous soul-drenching roar on final song ‘Caught Out In The Rain’, this was a captivating and moving experience, with the power of a wall of Marshall stacks and the impassioned soul of a dozen gospel choirs.