Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by Tony Butterworth

Beth Hart

A Grade II listed dancehall The Ritz has long been a mainstay of the Manchester music scene hosting artists ranging from Sinatra to The Smiths. Close to its 1,500 capacity the audience for tonight’s show is decidedly mature and vigorously partisan. In the midst of an extensive European tour Beth is playing just three UK dates and many of those in the crowd attended the Camden Roundhouse a few days earlier.

Martin HarleyMartin Harley

Support act is Martin Harley, a British singer-songwriter playing modern acoustic blues and excelling on the lap slide guitar. He complements the headliner and goes down well with the punters. Looking dapper in white shirt and waistcoat, Martin has been touring and recording for ten years or more and knows his way around an unfamiliar audience. In a thirty minute set he performs three numbers from his fifth and most recent album (‘Mojo Fix’) and a passionate slow blues (“written while cooking mediocre pancakes for nuns in Melbourne”). The set closes with a stomping ‘Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ on which he whips up the proverbial storm. He’s rapidly off to the merchandising stall where he does brisk business; a good night’s work.

Beth HartBeth Hart

Spot on 9pm Beth Hart takes centre stage. She has to be one of the hardest working acts around, touring furiously; recording frequently (five albums in the past four years). A fabulous collaboration with fellow American Joe Bonamassa (‘Don’t Explain’) was followed up by the equally good ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ which won her a slot on Jools Holland’s show in 2012. Bigger in Europe than in the USA her career can’t have been hurt by her performance at the Kennedy Centre Honours twelve months ago in front of the Obamas.

Beth HartBeth Hart

Alone and with keyboard centre stage (how rare is that?) Beth opens with ‘Favourite Things’. The ploy immediately establishes chemistry, entangling the audience in her emotions and off we go on a two hour roller coaster voyage. The band stroll on stage and launch into ‘Nutbush City Limits’. Quite a mood shift but it is a masterful and exciting change. Extolling the audience to clap along, Beth swaggers, poses, whoops and applies all her best Tina Turner moves. Momentarily she pauses, rests one elbow on the piano and stares the audience into obdurate submission.

Next up is ‘Mood I’m In’, notable for its mid-section where the pace falls away leaving just Beth’s powerful vocal and piano. “Anything you wanna hear?” she asks the audience. Requests are screamed out. She immediately regrets asking. “I opened a can of worms there. We’ll do those. Just not now”. In fact Beth sticks solidly to the set list except for the final number. She knows how to work a crowd.

‘Better Man’ logically follows ‘Sister Heroine’ and she dedicates it to her husband up on the balcony (spotlight picks him out) and she thanks him for saving her life and enabling her to “find me”. A cover of Lucinda Williams’ jaunty ‘Can’t Let Go’ is next. Jacket off, Beth stalks the stage in all her tattooed glory. Not a jot reminiscent of Madonna or Rod Stewart, she struts like a barroom queen in Memphis; swears and hollers like Janis Joplin and exudes a sultry, sweaty sexuality. Great theatre. It is almost tragic that official photos were only permitted for the first three, relatively sedate, numbers. The fans are thoroughly engaged as we go through a “Do you feel alright Manchester?” routine.

Beth Hart

Donny Hathaway’s sublime ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’ from the new ‘Seesaw’ album with Joe Bonamassa is a highlight of the show, delivering intimacy as Beth sings while sitting on the edge of the stage floor. Do search out Donny’s original; you won’t regret it. Another number from ‘Seesaw’ follows. Melody Gardot’s ‘If I Tell You I Love You’ provides a welcome change of pace. It swings.

Beth Hart

Then we have two numbers featuring just Beth and Jon Nichols on acoustic guitar: ‘Bad Love Is Good Enough’ (“another low self-esteem number”). She stops the song midway as she notices something awry with a couple just in front of her. “Did I make you cry?” she asks. “Sorry”. The emotional roller coaster is temporarily halted by ‘Stinky Feet’, a comedy song in the spirit of Randy Newman. This is also dedicated to her husband who allegedly has hygiene problems which he dutifully ignores. Since Beth is American that probably means he doesn’t shower twice a day. Welcome to Europe, Scott.

Beth HartBeth Hart

The full band are back for a raucous ‘Trouble’ which veers off into a weird semi- improvised ‘give me my money back’ chant with the audience. Then onto the home stretch with a guilty reverie about not telephoning your Mum often enough leading into her Mum’s favourite song. This is a stunning performance as Beth, seated and bathed in spotlights, lets a long guitar introduction wash into a gentle, countrified and controlled interpretation of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Ain’t No Way’.

Three encores follow. The first two are sweaty and funky. The third is the audience request: ‘Caught Out In the Rain’. Worth the price of the £21 admission alone it is without doubt the finest moment of the evening. It is taut, suspenseful and features the most involving of guitar solos. And it is her own composition which ranks with ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ and ‘Oh Me Oh My’ neither of which made the setlist.

Beth is a true force of nature. Occasionally overwrought, often over the top she is bursting with American exuberance and consummate stagecraft. Her band are ok; occasionally guilty of a heavy hitting and rather leaden plod but the pacing of the show, the variety of styles – rock, blues, soul, swing, comedy – always keep the gig alive and full of light and shade. And at the centre of all this is Beth’s remarkable voice. And that’s entertainment.

Beth Hart

Setlist: 1 Favorite Things 2 Nutbush City Limits 3 Mood I’m In 4 Sister Heroine 5 Better Man 6 Can’t Let Go 7 Delicious Surprise 8 I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know 9 If I Tell You I Love You 10 Bad Love Is Good Enough 11 Stinky Feet 12 There In Your Heart 13 Trouble 14 Bang Bang Boom Boom 15 For My Friend 16 Rhymes 17 Ain’t No Way 18 Baddest Blues 19 The Ugliest House On The Block 20 Caught Out In The Rain

2 Responses to “Beth Hart + Martin Harley at The Ritz, Manchester, UK – 20th November 2013”

  1. Victoria Musgrave Says:

    Great review and photographs. Captures the ‘feel’ perfectly.

  2. shari gordon Says:

    She is truly blessed to be able to perform in Europe (people who not only appreciate her, but get her) The US is so far behind )as far as Beth goes) it ridiculous. I saw her once in San Diego CA. I will never forget that experience. Totally AWESOME. You are lucky she spends alot of time in Europe (bad for the US) Keep caring

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