Saturday 8th February 2020
Hammersmith Apollo, London
This was one of those gigs that was eagerly anticipated and, boy, Beth Hart and her super tight band did not disappoint. There are very few performers that wear their heart on their sleeve quite as openly as this captivating singer, which created on this evening an atmosphere of intimacy that is rare, especially in a big old theatre like the Apollo. After Kris Barras had put in a solid performance, opening up again for the singer, as he had done on her last tour, playing as an acoustic duo with his keyboard player Josiah Manning switching to guitar, the lights dimmed and while the band strolled out on stage the star of the show made her way through the audience from the back of the stalls, singing ‘There in Your Heart’ unaccompanied, with breaks to hug audience members and generally create an inclusive vibe.
Dressed in a full-length white dress the lady then proceeded to deliver a fantastic set that while, naturally showcasing numbers from her superb recent album ‘War In my Mind’, included a selection from across her impressive back catalogue. As well as being an excellent singer, with a powerful voice that, while often given full range, never descended into the sort of screeching wail that is used by lesser vocalists as a proxy for genuine emotion. Her songs all have a story to tell, many of them introduced with a short explanation of their genesis. The lyrical content was also coupled with gorgeous melodies that were sung alternately from centre stage or from stage right, sat at the piano, which she played with a real freedom of expression.
For a four-piece band, often a three-piece when Beth moved away from the piano, the ensemble created a huge sound. Jon Nichols, changing guitar virtually every song, and favouring the low-slung guitar look, was especially impressive, providing a range of restrained accompaniment as well as unleashing strong, controlled solos when required, never overpowering the overall sound. Tom Lilly on bass and Bill Ransom on drums were rock solid and tighter than a pair of skinny jeans on chubby legs; the tightness of the band was displayed when the singer launched into the introduction to the title track of the current album, realised it was too fast, stopped and went straight into a slower pace in the space of two beats, with the rest of the band locked in without the slightest pause; seamless.
There were no slack moments and too many highlights to list them all but ‘Sister Dear’, also from the latest release was especially lovely. The haunting piano intro’ to ‘Baddest Blues’ from ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ and it’s build up to a tempestuous chorus was also memorable. Prior to a solo encore of one her signature cover versions (Tom Wait’s ‘Chocolate Jesus’ had featured earlier in the set), Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind‘, the band had gathered together on chairs at the front of the stage to play some slightly different arrangements of four songs, including the excellent ‘Spanish Lullabies; and ‘Baby Shot Me Down’, which were all performed with aplomb. This was a great night of really entertaining and enjoyable music.