Beth Hart @ The Bridgewater Hall
Blues and soul songstress Beth Hart comes to Manchester to bare her soul on a cold stormy evening. She warms the cockles with songs from her new album Fire On The Floor.
Words: Anthony Firmin | Photos: Mike Ainscoe
To say it is wet and stormy outside would be an understatement. A stark contrast to the calm inside the Bridgewater Hall, it had even affected opener Colin James as his borrowed umbrella had been destroyed during an afternoon outing here in rainy city. James is joined on stage by fellow Canuck guitarist Chris Cardell and they treat us to a selection of covers from the likes of Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell as well as songs from his own albums, ‘96’s Bad Habits and his latest album (his 18th) Blue Highways. When playing with his own band James' music is full on high octane blues in the mould of Stevie Ray Vaughn, a man he has history with, and although this short, semi-acoustic performance is highly enjoyable it doesn’t quite cut the mustard in the same way. What is amazing is that he looks younger now that he did 25 years ago when he last played in town on a Robert Plant tour.
It is exactly 3 years and a day since I last saw Beth Hart at the O2 Ritz in Manchester, which was best described as a passionate, sweat drenched affair and a highly memorable performance. Tonight she has been “upgraded” to the Bridgewater Hall with its interesting acoustics, outstanding for classical concerts and highly variable for rock gigs. Ms. Hart started the show with the Melody Gardot cover Your Heart Is As Black As Night, slowly walking from the rear of the hall towards the stage, shaking hands, kissing fans and connecting with the crowd. Finishing the song in front of the stage she follows it with the Al Green classic Rhymes.
At this point it is obvious that the Hall was going to do Hart’s band few favours as the drum sounds fly around the hall, bouncing off every wall and the bass guitar is non-existent. To compensate for this lack of bottom end Hart’s voice is much higher in the mix, and why not, her vocal range and singing talent is unique, Rhymes being the perfect vehicle for her vibrato style and sharing her gospel influences.
Hart is clearly excited and enjoying herself, the crowd are lapping it up as she launches into Bang Bang Boom Boom from behind the piano. The recent death of Leonard Cohen still resonates amongst the community of musicians and Hart is no exception dedicating Love Gangster to the great man, a title she took from a YouTube interview with Cohen and is the only song her psychiatrist has ever liked. And this is a radically different Beth Hart to the one who graced the stage of The Ritz, this one is classy, stylish in her tight dress and heels having banished her addiction daemons, but still brandishing her sassiness and that killer voice.
The slow church organ in A Good Day To Cry underlines the sorrow and mournfulness of the loss of producer Michael Stevens who was dying when he worked on the latest album but an attempt to reverse the solemn feeling with Delicious Surprise falls a bit flat when the “audience participation” is sadly more of a whimper than a sing-along.
Ms Hart always likes to include a couple of songs she did with Joe Bonemassa in her shows and although she starts solo she stops and calls back her band “don’t abandon me” and the performance is fuller as a result with a guitar solo from Jon Nichols that certainly hits the spot.
She certainly feels blessed for having beaten her addictions, dealing with her issues and the joy of being alive and this comes through in her show. Those dark times provided a lot of material for her, the most poignant being Sister Heroin which she wrote for her sister who had sadly succumbed to her own addictions and featuring another stirring solo from Nichols.
The reflective mood continued with Picture In A Frame from the new album with Beth Hart solo at the piano once more, a song about putting pictures on the wall after the imagined loss of her partner. St. Teresa deals with her spirituality for which she swaps the piano for acoustic guitar and the main set is closed out with Tell Her You Belong To Me where her voice resonates as it vibrates as it has done throughout the show.
The encore see’s Hart return to the audience for another walkabout further connecting with her fans having opened her heart for nearly two hours with her songs of life, passion and trauma, all having a personal narrative from her heart.