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Beth Hart + Connor Selby

Saturday 18th March

The London Palladium

So, Beth Hart. Where to start?

Not junk poetry, more a reflection of how many starting points there are to review this lady from.

Great female blues vocalist - definitely. Greatest female Blues vocalist? Possibly.

One of the greatest Blues vocalists ever? Probably.

However, this only covers her vocal attributes.

Plant, Rodgers, Gillan, Dio, Warwick, Janis, Joss Stone, Adam Lambert et al were all described as the best vocalists of their eras. I can’t recall any of them dragging the rawest Blues up from their souls AND backing it up by playing some seriously good music. That’s why they front a band!

Beth Hart must be one of the greatest Blues singers of recent generations, while also being an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. Did I mention songwriter? (Did I mention ‘fanboy’?).

Okay, so what was the gig like? Because of travel issues on the night, I missed the support act Connor Selby, quite irritating, as I really wanted to see him.

AJ knows I was bouncing off the walls when I volunteered to review this gig. I got worse when he sent the ticket through!! (Sorry AJ!! Ears healed yet??).

Beth walks on solo, sits at the piano and a slow, almost classical intro leads to the gentle rolling ‘Baddest Blues’ - a brief outline of her breadth of range.

This sets the tone for the whole show - classic Beth Hart. Her songs, and their delivery, are a mix of soft, doleful reminiscence, anger from the darkest depths, deeper sorrow than you can ever remember, and the occasional growling dissent or tribute (it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference).

Beth has lived all of those and sprinkles the set with the stories behind some of them - hard times with her dad, difficult partnerships, her mom’s habit of marrying men who are psychos or in prison - typical family stuff! All told matter of fact, but sung with pure emotion.
The band joins her for ‘Waterfalls’, with its call-and-response intro bringing the audience straight in, and we are off and running. A cover of Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’/’Dancing Days’ is a refreshing change after 50 years of hearing the originals (and hundreds of poor covers!).

The first half of the set is a romp through all her classics - dangerous Beth in ‘Bad Woman Blues’ (do you make a pass or run away??), doleful in ‘Love is a Lie’, melancholic in ‘War in My Mind’, ominous in ‘Leave A Light On’ and lively on the soft-rocker ‘Spirit of God’. These are sprinkled with some delights like ‘Chocolate Jesus’ (a tribute to two of her early favourites, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits), ‘Rub Me for Luck’ (a tribute to Jeff Beck, where Beth is prowling over the piano like a cat trying not to get her feet wet) and ‘The Ugliest House on the Block’, with Ms. H solo on acoustic guitar.

Beth Hart gives her utmost on every performance, but is also endlessly giving to her band and any other musicians she shares a stage with. She is always grateful for their contributions, and had tears of joy a couple of times as she brought her guys stage front, genuinely sharing the love.

Her band line-up have been with her for years and their sounds, and even movements, blend into one unified whole. The last few tracks of the opening set feature some beautiful sounds from Jon Nichols’ monochrome Epiphone electric, a stark icon among the sea of Fenders and Gibsons that dominate modern music.

The second half of the set is acoustic and even more varied in style. ‘Isolation’ is one of my favourites in her repertoire - she picks, plucks and strums her acoustic bass while playing a drone on the two bottom strings, sounding more reminiscent of North Africa than North America.

The band rejoin for the lover’s desperate plea ‘Without Words in the Way’, and we are treated to Jon Nichols on a sweet 6-string while Tom Lilly moves to a rumbling, grumbling double-bass and Bill Ransom is shaking, tapping and slapping any hard surface within reach.

We move through Beth scatting and wailing into the tribal beats of ‘Sugar Shack’, then up-tempo for ‘Fat Man’, then her side to side weaving movements almost snake-like as she sides into the very Spanish rendition of ‘Baby Shot Me Down’.

This ends the main set but Ms Hart is obviously enjoying herself as much as we are, apologises that the band can’t play for another two hours and the band go electric again to smash out a ‘No Quarter’/’Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ medley. We now have the meaty tones of a Les Paul, the amazing depth of tone from the 5-string bass and Mr. Ransom is in full flow back behind his full kit.

There’s a long period of audience and band applauding each other, several stage bows and a lot of cheering, before people start threading their respective ways home, but everybody has a smile on their faces and knows they experienced something great.

Beth and the band recently released a Zep covers album and it’s fair to say they‘ve reworked them considerably to make the numbers their own, without losing what made the originals great. Well worth checking it out, whether you’re a Beth Hart or a Zeppelin fan - you won’t be disappointed. The studio video of Black Dog has Beth at her prowling, snarling best - she is the wild animal!

Adam Buttery

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