||FIRE ON THE FLOOR IN GLASGOW AS BETH HART GIVES A RED HOT PERFORMANCE
Beth Hart/Colin James: O2 Academy, Glasgow
14th November 2016
Words: Ian Sutherland, Pictures: Stuart Westwood
Canadian singer songwriter Colin James has a successful thirty year career behind him and like many from his homeland, some Scottish ancestry. Somehow though it has taken until now before he walks out on to a stage in Glasgow for his first show in Scotland.
Low key seems to be the order of the day as there has been little pre-tour advertising about his support slot and it turns out to be just James and guitarist Chris Caddell as they wander out on to the stage and start an acoustic/electric duo set. It is obvious from the start that James is an experienced performer with a relaxed and easy charm, and his voice is rich and warm. He's no slouch on the guitar too whether he's playing his acoustic or as on a stripped back version of 'Keep On Loving Me Baby', showing his skills on the electric. He's happy to let his partner share the limelight though and the musicianship and vocals are never less than excellent throughout.
Blues and blues rock have been a staple of James' career up until now and as his latest album 'Blue Highway'(his eighteenth release) is an album of covers of songs from Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson and other bluesmen who inspired him to pick up a guitar, we inevitably get a set mainly covering that album. Of course it's expected that any artist on tour will promote their latest release but I thought it was a shame that the thirty minute time slot and the timing meant we didn't get to hear more from that extensive back catalogue. What we did get though was a high quality set of stripped back blues and hopefully that was just an appetiser for more tours to come. Mr James certainly made a good impression on tonight's audience.
Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves and many artists take that a few steps further with autobiographical songs but it's rare to come across a singer like Beth Hart. Tonight she actually has no sleeves and instead has a sleeveless top showing off her tattoos, but in a typically open performance she laid bare her vulnerabilities and her emotions in powerful ways. The tone is set from the off with her heartfelt cover of Blood Sweat And Tears' 'I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know'. Most gigs start with something uptempo but this American queen of the blues can go straight into heartbreaking ballad territory and have the audience in the palm of her hand from the off.
When things get more uptempo such as on 'Can't Let Go' or 'Fat Man' there are plenty of shimmys and shakes and above all an authentic joy in where she is and what she's doing.She's so in control that she tells the all seated venue to stand when she wants them to dance and sit when she's finished. The stories told between songs are lengthy and seem genuinely unrehearsed and at times brutally frank about her own shortcomings as she sees them.They work really well setting her own songs in context and when used as a set up on 'Good Day To Cry' a song about the death of one of her producers, it results in one of the really magic moments of the night with Hart's truly soulful voice soaring over her eloquent piano playing.
There are more upbeat highlights of the set such as Hart's dextereous acoustic bass playing on Billie Holiday's 'Spiders In My Bed' or the audience walkabout during 'Waterfalls' where she still sings superbly while hugging and greeting her fans. I liked the respect the audience gave her during this too, there was a genuine warmth about the whole thing, it wasn't a showbiz stunt but a sharing experience. However for me it's when things got slowed down and stripped back where things really reached another level. The musicians backing Ms Hart tonight are excellent but when it's just two acoustic guitars and THAT voice on 'St Theresa' it's more emotionally powerful than just about any band can be.
The command of her audience is so complete on these quieter songs that the six song encore is all in that style with four featuring just piano and vocals, maybe just because that's the zone that this instinctive singer is in tonight.'Take It Easy On Me' is particularly outstanding with a remarkable hush in the 1500 strong audience as they listen to the emotive connection between voice and piano, something you will rarely come across in this size of venue.Fittingly the night ends on another piano and vocal number in 'No Place Like Home' and then the inevitable ovations and bows follow.
Personally I wasn't totally blown away by every song in the set tonight but the sheer force of this charismatic star is enough to carry any tune and when that magnificent voice is allowed to shine on a quality song, especially one stripped back to let the light into the genuine emotions being expressed the effect is simply stunning. A riveting performer who needs to be seen live to be appreciated.