Leeds Town Hall is an incredible performance space – dominated by the organ pipes towering over the stage, ornate decorations surrounding the walls and with decades of performances and activity seeped into the very fabric of the building.
The last Monday in October saw Beth Hart arrive to deliver a powerful night of blues, soul and jazz inflected songs which will add to those performances.
Supported by Canadian bluesman Steve Hill – destined for his own solo show at the Irish Centre next week – the night was a celebration of craftsmanship. Hill is well worth watching out for, tonight playing acoustic, stomping through a short set that had elements of blues playing from ZZ Top to Howlin’ Wolf.
Recent years have seen Hart work alongside guitar legends such as Jeff Beck and Joe Bonamassa, but this was a solo show. As she noted, as the third night of her solo tour, she was still getting over the nerves. The nerves never showed though. Instead we saw an assured performance from a singer and songwriter at the top of her game. Moving from grand piano to electric piano, then onto acoustic bass and then guitar, Beth could show off her musical proficiency as well as vocal skills.
Perhaps best known for the her full-blooded blues, imbued with echoes of everyone from Billie Holliday to Tina Turner, these solo gigs offer a chance to show off some of the more nuanced jazzy numbers she has in her armoury. Jazz Man conjured visions of some dodgy speakeasy, Tom Waits waiting to duet and the hushed clink of glasses in a smoky cellar.
There’s history to Beth, and this comes out across the songs – tales of misspent years, struggles with men and drink. She confronts bipolar head on, and the impact it has on her, praising the friend who has helped her with coping strategies as she sang Might As Well Smile.
For fans of Dead Man Walking she has St Theresa – a song for lost souls and salvation, before sliding onto Swing My Thing, another jazz number worked up when playing with Bonamassa.
The Billie Holliday link was made explicit as Broken and Ugly was introduced, soulful yearning behind a tale of ‘finding her man’ after difficult years. As she moved to six strings, her introduction to the spooky Boogieman explained how she had been watching one of those documentaries where someone declares one in 200 of us have the potential to be serial killers. She’d not been the only one phoning her therapist the next day... It’ll be no surprise to see it in a horror flick anytime soon.
The night saw over 20 numbers played to a full house. Ending with a paean to her other half, who rushed to join her on stage as applause rang out in a romantic end to a great night. This was a full value performance and as I overheard some say as we headed out into the night: “Do you know, she doesn’t just go for every note, she bloody well gets them every time.”
Beth Hart plays at Hull City Hall on April 27, 2018. For details visit bethhart.com/tour.