Beth Hart | Royal Festival Hall | 23 November 2016
Photo credit: John Bull
Beth Hart just can’t phone it in. Her songwriting is deeply personal, her lyrics unflinchingly confessional. Her albums showcase one impassioned vocal after another, her voice brimming with soul, love, rebellion, and heartache. And at her live shows, that intimacy and sometimes-unbridled emotion are amplified to such an extent that, from the second she enters from the back of the auditorium, there’s a deep connection with the audience.
The mutual joy and respect is instantly tangible as she makes her way towards the stage, embracing people, shaking their hands, smiling and waving at those she can’t reach, all the while negotiating Billie Holiday’s seductive ‘Don’t Explain’. And the shared experience only intensifies as the evening continues – whether she’s kneeling at the edge of the stage, singing directly to the front row; back among the fans on the floor; mischievously getting a sold-out Royal Festival Hall to sing “motherfucker”; or, near tears, introducing songs about her family, Mother Theresa, or her experiences with addiction and mental health.
And it’s those songs that are tonight’s most powerful. The bittersweet ‘Sister Heroine’ may be a celebration of her departed sister’s life but, as Hart sings “Goodbye white trash super star/ Shine on wherever you are/ I love you I love you I love you” over a crying solo from guitarist Jon Nichols, the results are heartbreaking. Equally devastating is the loving tribute to her mother, ‘Mama This One’s For You’. Performed solo from the candlelit piano, its tender vocal shrinks the 2900-seat hall to the room where she first wrote it, while the fragile ‘St Theresa’ pairs that closeness with a soaring vocal and restrained performance from her three-piece band.
But it’s certainly not a night of despair. Strutting across the stage in her glittering gold-sequined dress, Hart clearly knows how to lift the mood and pours all that she has into good-time bluesy rockers like ‘Fat Man’ ‘Bang Bang Boom’, ‘Trouble’, and ‘Lifts You Up’. Not only do these celebratory, high-energy moments showcase the full power of her towering voice, they reveal the talent of the musicians behind her – especially powerhouse drummer Bill Ransome). And, perhaps most importantly, they transform this austere venue into an ass-shaking, hand-clapping, foot-stomping good time. This is as real as music gets.
- Beth Hart plays Royal Albert Hall on 4 May 2018. Tickets are available now.