Amazing Live Shots: Jola Stiles
Imagine for a second (and you will need to imagine for the noise is deafening) that you are watching a silent movie. You can see people clapping. Well, no, clapping is not quite right. You can see people applauding wildly as a tattooed figure bounds on stage with all of the energy of a school girl. Clearly momentarily overwhelmed by the reception, despite the fact that this is precisely the reception she’s been used to receiving, the figure stops and waves, almost shyly, before sitting at the piano, ready to launch into the first song. Viewed like this, the scene at Rock City is remarkably telling because the whole affair feels strangely intimate despite the fact that Rock City is a big venue and it’s comfortably full. It’s also nice to replay the scene in the memory like this because it offers a glimpse into the real Beth Hart. Not just a wonderful musician. Not just one of the best singers in the planet (if you can every describe anyone as just one of the best singers on the planet) but a performer for whom the thrill of playing live is every bit as vital and invigorating as walking in the mountains or sailing across the oceans. In short (and apologies for rambling on quite so long), when I recapture the moment Beth Hart walks on stage, I see absolute joy. The joy of performing, the thrill of the applause and the genuine, heartfelt delight at being able to sit at a piano, decked out with (health and safety approved LED) candles and deliver an opening pair of songs that are as smoky and intimate as if she was playing in a downtown bar somewhere in America to an audience of three. It’s a wonderful thing to see, and it really made the performance for me.
Still, let’s turn the volume up. I’ve rambled on enough and we’re here for the songs I think, and it is one hell of a set list that is delivered. Beth Hart has an astonishing back catalogue and her ability to craft a mood throughout the evening is pitch perfect. She is, by turns, soulful and deep, charming and whimsical, a full-on rock goddess and a singer songwriter, and all of these elements of her complex personality shine out at just the right moment, making the gig an engaging and memorable journey which the audience undertakes alongside Beth.
Opening with a solo number, ‘hiding under water’, Beth sets the mood and has the audience immediately on her side. Sitting at her piano, Beth’s stunning voice fills the venue. Her immense vocal talent is firmly on display here and yet for many audience members it is as if Beth is playing just for them. Singing the key lyric, ‘I won’t take you for granted’, you can feel the passion beneath the words and you get the impression that Beth Hart never takes anything for granted. Next up is another relatively low key number, the beautiful and evocative ‘leave the light on’ which is heart breaking and uplifting in equal measure. Now, however, it’s time to cook and Beth brings out her band and heads off into full rock goddess mode. The character hinted at in her devastating performance of ‘nutbush city limits’ is given free reign here and over crushing waves of guitar she unleashes her wild side, much to the delight of the crowd.
From then on it’s a non-stop ride of rich, soaring highs, and mellow lows played by a band who seem to be as thrilled to be on stage as Beth herself. There’s a richness of variety, from comic songs (introduced with almost girlish glee) like ‘stinky feet’ to huge, memorable ballads with all points in between covered too. It’s diverse but never incoherent, and Beth works the crowd wonderfully too, initiating some of the loudest sing-alongs I’ve ever heard. Highlights come think and fast including classics in the making ‘rather go blind’, take it easy’ and ‘might as well smile’. If you know Beth’s albums then you know these songs. If you wandered into the concert unsuspecting, then you’ll be desperately wanting to acquaint yourself as soon as possible, and the delivery is so personable, the melodies so memorable that you’ll walk away with at least a few of the evening’s moments lodged in your cranium.
You could not ask for a better night’s entertainment than a Beth Hart show. Aside from her stunning voice, Beth Hart is a wonderfully human performer who genuinely connects with her audience. She writes songs form the heart and, as a result, there are many songs here that audience members will instantly connect with. Her on-stage demeanour is a delight, her band first-rate (but then you‘d expect nothing less form a lady who collaborated with the wonderful Joe Bonamassa) and the show’s lengthy run-time (almost two hours) flashes by in a heartbeat. Beth Hart will soon be playing far bigger venues than rock city, but no matter where she goes from here, it’s hard to imagine her performances will ever be less playful, less vital, less invigorating than they are tonight because it’s all so much part of her character. Beth Hart lives to perform, and seeing her on stage is a genuine delight that will live with me always.