Having had to wait almost 20 years to see Beth Orton, I was finally given the opportunity to experience her in person this past week. Now that I have seen her perform the music that has grown so much a part of me over this span of time, I can personally confirm that her show is everything that any fan of hers could ever desire.
I, like many other Beth Orton fans, first heard of her via her collaborations with the Chemical Brothers in the mid to late 90’s. I was struck by her haunting vocals and poignant lyrics, fell in love with her folk/electronic combination style, and needed to hear more. I have been a faithful fan since, following along with every album and track she has ever released. The audience at City Winery all seemed to be of a similar devout collective, shouting out requests for classics off of her earliest albums Trailer Park and Central Reservation. There were several of these older tracks already on Beth’s agenda, weaving in older tracks amid the new, such as “She Cries Your Name” and “Touch Me With Your Love” and ending with a crowd-demanded “Central Reservation” before her encore, which then included 2 more beloved throwbacks.
My personal favorite moment was when guitar/bass player Greg McMurray and drummer/percussionist Chris Vatalero stepped off the stage and left Beth to sing “Blood Red River” solo, as she prefaced it with saying it was in an awkward spot on the set list. Her voice wavered with emotion and the silent watching crowd was fully drawn in to her mesmerizing voice floating above the sound of her acoustic guitar. Beth had an endearing nervous stage presence while speaking to the crowd, often mentioning throughout the show facts like this was the first U.S. stop on this tour, and that she had just begin learning keys so she was not ready to play them live. However, as soon as the first note to every song hit the air, Beth instantly melted into the music in a zen-like passionate transformation. It was obvious by her genuine performance that writing and performing music is where she belongs.
While the crowd was full of longtime fans, they reacted positively with bobbing heads and smiles to all the tracks that were played off of Beth’s new album, Kidsticks. This makes absolute sense, as the album seems to have returned to her electronic roots, and the time when she collaborated with William Orbit. She has always held onto an underlying electronic foundation, but more recent albums leaned further towards the folk side of the music spectrum. Kidsticks finds the perfect balance between upbeat and introspective, with tossed in bits of 80’s synth, atmospheric energy, and almost Radiohead-reminiscent waves. I love that Beth is reaching back to this side of herself, and found this album to be a refreshing change, much reflected off the events in her forward-moving and soul-searching personal life.
After the show, Beth personally sat in the merch booth and greeted each and every fan that was in line. She signed autographs (and people), allowed photographs to be taken with her, and even distributed hugs, all with no required purchase. To see an artist this personally devoted to their fans, especially after 7 albums, is rare and inspiring. It truly meant a lot to be given the chance to personally express to her how much her music means to me. Beth Orton is every bit as humble and real as her music is beautiful, which makes her live experience one to never forget. This performance definitely further deepened my regret in having to wait so long to see her. Whether a fan has been around since the beginning, or is just discovering the magic of Beth Orton, I would recommend not missing this tour.
“Galaxy of Emptiness”
“She Cries Your Name”
“Call Me the Breeze”
“Blood Red River”
“Flesh and Blood”
“Touch Me With Your Love”