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Interview, 17 February 2012
© 2012 Pete Feenstra.  All rights reserved.
Camera by Eric Harvey

Shepherds Bush Empire, 25 February 2012

Beth Hart, photo by Bob Singleton

Playing her biggest ever UK show at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire, LA songstress Beth Hart rewarded her new found fans with a thrilling show full of total commitment, in the moment spontaneity and the kind of stellar performance that marks her out as a special talent.

Where on her previous smaller club dates she had shown glimpses of her true potential, tonight she threw off the gauntlet to stride the stage with the kind of 'rock chick' animus that served her so well in her early career.

Her well drilled band including 21 year old guest guitarist Josh Gooch gave her the extra impetus to rock out and make the most of some impressive arrangements. And while there was still a delicate balance separating her outright raunchiness from an ever present singer songwriter vulnerability, she threw caution to the wind to engage her audience with a natural exuberance that ranged from call and response sequences to 'trucker mouth' cussing and heartfelt autobiographical songs.

Both Tom Waits' 'Chocolate Jesus' and Brook Benton's 'I'll Take Care of You' were both as warmly received as they were confidently delivered, but tonight was all about the emergence of a new star on her own terms.

For while Beth's collaboration with Bonamassa on 'Don't Explain' has gained her the vacant Amy Winehouse play list slot on Radio 2, the demographics of the packed Empire audience suggests a wider appeal, as the room was filled with rock fans, bikers, dykes, baldies and presumably Radio 2 fans.

But Beth's rock approach was closer to say Juliette Lewis than Amy Winehouse, as she strutted her stuff, worked the audience and brought a rough hewn coherence to a set that explored her three primary genres of rock, soul and confessional singer song-writing.

Beth Hart, photo by Bob Singleton

Beth Hart has always been a star in the making with only her personal demons and the ever changing vicissitudes of musical taste standing in the way. Americans don't do irony, but even Beth must wonder how having survived the wild child rock star cycle, she's now achieving success as a mainstream radio balladeer.

Certainly the opening solo dedication to her mum, 'Mama', confirmed her natural attributes as both a communicator and a songwriter in search of deep meaning.

Then there's her huge vocal range and an arresting vibrato which cut through the venue like a laser. She quickly slipped into rock mode with Josh taking the first solo of the night on the gospel tinged 'Something's Got a Hold on Me' while she duetted with long time guitarist Jon Nichols on a visceral version of 'Well Well Well' also from 'Don't Explain'.


The sexual imagery was not lost on Beth who told the crowd sometimes she'd wished she'd been born a man to sing songs with 'all that power and all that soul', though surely her range alone would leave most contenders in her slipstream.

Beth's explored some impeccable phrasing and demonstrated intuitive mic technique on 'Your Heart Is As Black As Night' as she wrought deep emotion from the song, while her own celebratory 'As Good as It Gets' rocked with real intent.

Nothing could stop her now, not even a malfunctioning piano that led her to an impromptu rap about her sexy hubbie fixing the problem.

She returned centre stage for a warped dedication to George W. Bush on the raucous 'Sick', filling the song with a Janis Joplin style wail while writhing on all fours in front of the drum riser, as if lost in her own androgynous Jim Morrison style theatrical moment.

Beth Hart, photo by Bob Singleton

The sexual imagery was not lost on Beth who told the crowd sometimes she'd wished she'd been born a man to sing songs with 'all that power and all that soul', though surely her range alone would leave most contenders in her slipstream.

As it was, she poured all of her feminine wiles into the heartfelt ode to her hubbie/road manager Scott on 'My California', the title track of her last solo album and a song worthy of its magnificent delivery.

The extended encore section of the show ended with her body language in stark contrast to the rest of the evening, as she hunched over her stool to make the most of the mesmerising slide and organ led 'Ain't No Way'. Then came the inevitable 'I'd Rather Go Blind', an Etta James song which she reinterpreted in terms of her troubled relationship with her absent father.

Beth Hart came, saw and conquered with a show as high on energy as it was fuelled with channelled emotion. This was not so much a case of being in the right place at the right time as a singer who is finally reaping her overdue rewards. Europe it seems has once again nurtured an American star in the making.

Review by Pete Feenstra

Photos by Bob Singleton

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Interview (February 2012)


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