Beth Hart – Bridgwater Hall, Manchester 2016

Fusing elements of blues, rock, soul and jazz into her own thought provoking style of song writing, the scintillating Beth Hart is an accomplished artist who just seems to be pushing the boundaries of peaking. In seventeen years she has claimed numerous awards, released thirteen albums (including live ones), and has collaborated with some big names in the industry. The show at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester was one that mirrored her ever changing and diverse image. An older, appreciative crowd at an all seated affair made for a gig a little more sophisticated from the norm.

Before the main show, Vancouver bluesman, Colin James, played a half hour slot and a variety of songs from his eighteen albums, including his new one, ‘Blues Highway’. Casually sitting at the front of the stage along with Chris Cadell, they played a series of country and blues like concoctions, using an array of finely tuned guitars to emit their crisp sound, with some very tasty and lip puckering stalwart riffs straight from the depths of blues, rock and even some country. This was Colin James’ first outing in the UK since a 1991 support slot with Robert Plant, and the crowd seemed to warm to him as if he was a recurring annual act.

After a short break we’re asked to take our seats for a prompt 9pm start, and as the musicians take their places, the lights dim, and the unforgettable sound of a glorious vocal echoes around the room. Not coming direct from the stage, a moments confusion ensues before we realise that Beth Hart is making her way down the aisle from the back of the auditorium, mingling and engaging with her fans for pictures, hugs and handshakes while singing an outstanding cover of Melody Garlot’s, ‘Your Heart Is as Black as Night’. She looks fabulous, elegantly dressed, strutting her way towards the stage, completely owning the room.

Once she’s up onstage she tells everyone to stand as she launches into an Al Green cover, ‘Rhymes’, a song she collaborated with Joe Bonamassa for their album. Making her way over to the piano she sits and offers us the same courtesy as she plays a couple of upbeat numbers in a row in the form of ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ and ‘Swing My Thing Back Around’, the latter having more of a jazz feel to it that aids her to settle into the show in confident mood. ‘Love Gangster’ is played next, the first off new album ‘Fire on the Floor’, and is aptly dedicated to the late Leonard Cohen as it was a phrase he had coined when answering questions about his colourful past.

The first real emotive ballad comes with the second song off the new album, ‘Good Day to Cry’, which is about the producer of her last album, Michael Stevens, who sadly passed away. She switches between the emotive, melodious tracks and the more buoyant hip shaking grooves, but the sentiment behind each poignant song is shared beforehand, sometimes heart wrenching, sometimes funny, but always endearing. She half jokes with us that we are her psychiatrists for this evening as she explains the deep meaning behind each song so that we can gain understanding as to how the lyrics are shaped and the depths of which part of her soul the tune has come from to help emphasise the significance. ‘I’ll Take Care of You’, a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland, which she recorded with Joe Bonamassa is one such track, where the band momentarily leave before Hart calls them back to play with her, stating she’s better with them present. The series of striking guitar riffs deliciously delivered by Jon Nicholls drives home the songs essence. She continues to mercilessly bring us to our knees with a tirade of evocative lyrics and song arrangements, especially in the following song, ‘Sister Heroine’. Many people must’ve shed a tear or two when she openly talks about the track being dedicated to her sister, who unfortunately lost her battle with drug addiction many years ago. The compassion showed throughout the delivery was breathtaking and was possibly the standout performance of the night. Beth Hart is so honest and open about her life and it’s that courage and honesty that connects with the crowd and draws them in. The sombre tone continues with ‘Picture in a Frame’, a song that drifts into a hypothetical situation revolving around life without her husband, providing a unique insight into an element of Hart’s creative prowess, at times conjuring up fictional scenarios in her mind which she can then turn into the most moving of songs. ‘Leave the Light On’ is another sentimental track and a highlight of the show along with ‘St Theresa’, another touching song about Mother Theresa, where Hart explains that she’d been given a cross that day by a lady sat in the audience who claimed that it had been kissed by Mother Theresa herself.

Upbeat and uplifting tracks are strategically placed inbetween the more sensitive ones such as, ‘Delicious Surprise’, where Hart rises from the piano to portray the sass and swagger that makes her such a flexible and compelling artist. ‘Let’s Stay Together’ is a charmingly crafted rock song with a bounce to the melody that makes hips and heads uncontrollably shake and bob. ‘Today Came Home’ and the lead single off the new album, ‘Love is a Lie’ represent a change that appeals to the rockier side of her song writing as the show nears its closure.

The comedic aspect to Hart’s persona is evident with the cheeky and chirpy melody of ‘Wash Your Feet You Stinky Mother Fucker’, a tongue in cheek song about when her and her husband argue.  ‘Tell Her You Belong To Me’ is the last of the set and is another powerful statement about her Father, a song that took years to write in order for her to find the right words.

For the encore she’s back in the audience, going out as she came in, engaging with her fans and soaking in the adoration, but this time to the more galvanising track, ‘Waterfalls’, which sees the crowd up on their feet dancing. She returns to her trusty piano for two ballads, ‘Fire on the Floor’ and ‘Woman You’ve Been Dreaming Of” before the A Cappella finish of ‘As Long as I Have a Song’, sang beautifully whilst sitting on the edge of the stage. She opens up again and says that the song is about her abandonment issues where she uses the bar as an escape and safe haven…..but she proudly states she’s been sober now for two years, and that is how she rounds off a truly superb evening.

It was an incredible and exhilarating performance from this wonderful talent. Her versatility is exemplary as she swerves between jazz, soul, blues and rock, taking you on an emotional journey filled with ups and downs. Her powerful vocal tugs consistently at the heartstrings, making you shudder when she wails. She adapted to the classy nature of the set up at Bridgewater Hall by dressing in an equally stylish manner and performing songs that illustrated the venue’s spirit. If there’s such a thing as the sophisticated side of LA’s Sunset Strip, the city she hails from, then this is that image and sound.

There’s tragedy, passion, joy, power, charm and charisma all rolled into Beth Hart, but above all else it’s her outright honesty, bravery and openness that grabs the hearts and imaginations of her fans. Not ashamed to admit past lifestyle choices and mistakes, her story is as intriguing as her performances, but the beauty about her is that in something so tragic, where so much pain has been beset on her, she has come through that and created something so pure and sacred, and that is the quintessential Beth Hart in a nutshell.

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