The Kris Barras Duo, being Kris and Josiah J Manning one half of The Kris Barras Band, opened proceedings with a half hour acoustic set. Both armed with acoustics but Josiah was also adding bass with his right booted foot and kick drum with his left socked foot.
Band favourites such as Heart On Your Sleeve, What You Get and Vegas Son all worked well acoustically but the duo’s version of Midnight Rider was the piece de resistance. Hail Mary brought an excellent set to a close.
A short interval before the lights dimmed and Jon Nichols takes up position alone on stage with his acoustic guitar. Heads turn as Beth Hart‘s dulcet tones are heard and she suddenly appears at the back of the hall. Graciously moving down the centre aisle, interacting with the audience as she goes, she draws closer to the stage with husband, stage manager and protector Scott Guetzkow close by.
She eventually joins Nichols on stage for There In Your Heart, a gentle opening number before the full band then take up positions, Bill Ransom on drums and Tom Lilly on bass for Close To My Fire. A band that is very close to Beth’s heart as all three members have been with her for most of her twenty five year musical career. She has great trust in them emotionally and professionally.
Beth Hart sings everything from the heart and the great trauma and tragedy of her relatively young 48 years is the inspiration for almost everything she writes. It has not all been doom and gloom, however, and Rub Me For Luck is a heartfelt song with a very moving piano accompaniment that she wrote for her very good friend Joe Bonamassa…… ‘Your guitar’s a bleeding heart, If you play me like you play that thing, You’d shine me like a diamond ring’…..say no more.
If there is an artist who could add a feminine touch to a Tom Waits classic it would be Hart and it was a bonus that she could accommodate Chocolate Jesus within the set list on this night. This was followed by the excellent Bad Woman Blues before Beth took the band completely by surprise and opted to play a Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland number I’ll Take Care Of You which featured on the covers album Don’t Explain that she released with Joe Bonamassa in 2011.
‘War In My Mind(It’s All Black In My Soul)’ the emotionally charged lyric from the title track War In My Mind from Hart’s new album pretty much says it all. The rockier Sugar Shack also from her new album follows before the band take their leave and Beth has the stage to herself. Tell Her You Belong To Me was written for her father for whom she loves dearly and his partner who she only wished ill will upon. In fact in the past she would often dream of doing her serious harm.
The lyric was strong and was sung with such emotion as she sat on the edge of the stage before taking to the stool behind her piano, totally captivating the audience.
Beth Hart has a voice to die for but what sometimes goes overlooked is her amazing talent as a pianist. It is no small wonder as she was classically trained from four years of age before she started delving into Etta James and even Led Zeppelin. The power of her voice coupled with the intensity of the piano would hold an audience spellbound ad infinitum.
The beautiful Sister Dear was written for one of Hart’s sisters who I believe was in the audience on the night and she must have been absolutely blown away. Hart’s absolute love for her mother shone brightly when she sang Mama This One’s For You and was emotionally broken and in tears at the end.
Hart brings this short solo section to a close with Baddest Blues before welcoming back Tom Lilly who takes up his upright bass for Without Words Get In The Way. Nichols and Ransom join them mid way through with acoustic guitar and single drum/percussion respectively.
This acoustic set up prevailed for the remainder of this fabulous evening. Baby Shot Me Down had a real latin feel to it whilst If I Tell You I Love You a french vibe. Beth Hart demonstrated that there really was no limit to her talents as she joined the rest of her band on acoustic guitar.
Beth again took the band by complete surprise by bringing the main set of this fabulous evening’s entertainment to a close with I’d Rather Go Blind before she was rapturously brought back for an encore. She returned to her piano for the very dark and haunting Woman Down accompanied by Tom Lilly on upright bass.
A fabulous evening wherein this tortured soul opened her heart but should be proud of the fact that she can captivate an audience and have them eating from her hand for a full two hours.
Photography and words by Phil Honley of Beth Hart at London’s Eventim Apollo on Saturday 8th February 2020. Phil has his own photography site here: http://www.gigsnapz.co.uk.