There was a time when female singers exuded sass and danger in equal measure, tearing up the airwaves with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit that threatened to burn anyone in too close a proximity. Singers such as Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin not only offered their remarkable voices to the world, but an attitude and style that was more than a match for their male contemporaries. Who, in the modern world, could legitimately be seen as the heir to those great singers of the sixties and seventies; those pioneers who took on a male-dominated industry and forever stamped their identity on modern music? Only one singer of late has offered the same sense of excitement and audacity that the aforementioned artists bought to the stage and that is Beth Hart. Beth quite simply has it all. A stage presence that is quite impossible to ignore, an irrepressible love for music and, of course, a voice that could launch a thousand ships. Beth can do hot and sultry (‘sinner’s prayer’), she can do melancholy blues (‘baddest blues’), she can do brass-soaked soul (‘see saw’) and when she really wants to, she can tear holes in the stratosphere with a rock ‘n’ roll number like ‘nutbush city limits’, her unearthly roar the result of a sincere and long-lived passion for the music that she inhabits body and soul. When you add to the equation a band that is surely the envy of the R&B world (the untameable Joe Bonamassa, the wonderful Carmine Rojas, the quietly talented Blondie Chaplin, the drumming powerhouse that is Anton Fig and the excitable Arlan Schierbaum on keyboards), a full brass section and an explosive Dutch audience, the stage is set for one hell of a show, and so it proves on ‘Amsterdam’, a double live DVD from Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa that provides everything a fan of these two exquisite musicians could ever hope for.
Joe Bonamassa may be the star of his own show, but it is to his eternal credit that he is quite content to sit back with the band and let Beth shine like the dazzling light she is. With dark, shoulder length hair, an elegant dress and arms emblazoned with tattoos, Beth looks every inch the rock goddess, and then there’s her voice, ringing out clear and true over nineteen songs (not including the intro ‘Amsterdam, Amsterdam!’ and closing number ‘Antwerp Jam’) that would surely test and find wanting any other singer. Every base is covered from the opening ‘them there eyes’ with its fifties swing and bright sound, to the snarling blues of ‘sinner’s prayer’ (an early highlight) and, for once, whilst his playing is typically exquisite, all eyes are not on Joe, the spotlight remaining firmly on Beth who has the crowd eating from the palm of her hand with her gorgeous vocals, confident showmanship and charming smile which flashes out every time her band unleash another instrumental salvo. It’s a pleasure to watch these seasoned veterans work together with such obvious joy and it leaves you envious that you missed the actual show, although as concert films go, this one does much to capture the excitement and atmosphere of the night.
Highlights come thick and fast with the beautifully phrased slide licks of ‘can’t let go’ making you want to leap up and dance, the hard rock of ‘for my friends’ giving Deep Purple a run for their money with Beth’s earthy tones going up against Joe’s huge grinding riff and Blondie’s wah-soaked inflection, only for the seductive tones of ‘close to my fire’ to spark flames of a completely different nature. It’s a set that is perfectly poised, and every time you think you have surely reached the concert’s best performance the band push themselves to even greater heights, feeding off the energy of the crowd and delivering another bombshell set to detonate deep inside your heart and soul. One of those great concerts that you can dip into and always come away with an amazing moment, far better is to sit back and let the whole thing brighten even the dullest day. It is the auditory equivalent of sunshine, warming the spirits and brightening the senses thanks to the sheer passion that every single musician on stage exhibits throughout. However, if you did have to point to one moment where the show reaches a point of near-combustion, it is surely the startlingly powerful rendition of ‘nutbush city limits’, a song Beth was initially nervous about tackling and which is delivered here with the mesmerising strength of a singer at the absolute peak of her not inconsiderable talents. As the band rage away, Beth just lets rip and if you don’t find yourself spontaneously leaping to your feet to applaud the performance then your soul surely shrivelled and died some years ago because it demonstrates the simple and unanswerable fact that Beth is one of the most talented singers alive today.
As has previously been the case with Provogue’s excellent range of DVDs, the show is beautifully presented with a crystal clear picture on the DVD augmented by the choice of Dolby Digital stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and, best of all, a DTS 5.1 track making the most of systems that can handle it. With the ubiquitous Kevin Shirley (and I really am starting to believe the man doesn’t sleep) at the helm, the music is mixed perfectly with Beth and Joe standing out, as you might imagine, but never at the expense of the other excellent musicians on stage (Carmine Rojas, for example, does a grand job of giving the LFE a fine workout) whilst the work done by the camera crew and editing/directorial team also deserves praise, with the image moving subtly around the stage, highlighting the efforts of whichever musician is at the fore at any given time whilst giving plenty of screen time to Beth herself. In an age of digital artifice and wildly inappropriate jump cuts, it is a model of restraint and traditional filming style and it perfectly suits the mood and feel of the performance – you could not ask for a better filmed concert and the film gives even Scorsese’s twin peaks of concert filming (‘the last Waltz’ and ‘shine a light’) a run for their money.
Again, when it comes to special features, Provogue come up trumps with an entire second disc dedicated to extras. First up is ‘up, down, all around : behind the seesaw’, a documentary (nearly an hour in length) that covers the hectic rehearsal schedule required to get such a remarkable band on stage together all at the same time. Featuring a huge wealth of back-stage footage, talking heads interviews and rehearsal clips it’s a lovely bonus that will undoubtedly delight those who love to know more about their heroes. Similarly lengthy is the forty-plus minute making of documentary that covers the specifics of making the film and it does a grand job of dealing with the specifics of actually making a DVD from choosing wardrobe to checking lighting levels. It once again features contributions from all involved and whilst it may only be worth one watch from start to finish, it’s a generous addition to the package. An alternate version of ‘someday after a while (you’ll be sorry)’, with Joe at the mic, and a selection of photos round out the extras and all in all this impressive set offers up a two hour concert as well as two hours of mostly fascinating extras which take you much further behind the scenes than most musicians are willing to go.
If you have previously experienced the remarkable voice of Beth Hart then this DVD is unquestionably essential – you know what you’re going to get and you may have ordered it already. If you have not yet heard Beth’s unique tones, then this DVD is the perfect starting point because, for all the power of her albums, this is where she truly comes alive. The music is just stunning, played by a band who have been lucky enough to make a living out of an all-consuming passion, and the production team have done a fantastic job of bringing the whole show to life for a home audience. Whether you opt for the Blu ray, the DVD or even just the double CD version, this is a show you’ll want to return to time and again and you’ll never leave it feeling any less than elated at the whole-hearted energy that these wonderful musicians deliver.
Check out the trailer here: