Beth Orton – Reviewed

Last year heralded the return of Beth Orton; a packed-out Kazimier suggested the absence had been keenly felt… 

It’s a long time since Beth Orton was last in Liverpool, a fact acknowledged by the Norfolk-born singer-songwriter shortly after arriving on stage. A member of the crowd was quick to remind her he’d seen her at The Royal Court a while back. Orton’s response was to shyly regard her feet.

Indeed, the audience seemed determined to take it in turn to be quietly reverential and teenager-like, as if daring eachother to ask out the girl in class they all fancy most. It was that kind of night.

Seeming a little taken aback by the attention and the numbers, Orton quietly got to work, rattling through a set made up mostly of tracks from last year’s Sugaring Season, including the rousing lilt of first single Magpie. That said, this is hardly an artist testing untried tracks on an unsuspecting, feigning-enthusiasm-audience; there are numerous singalongs going on amongst the sardine-like crowd, and when Orton does digress into older material, it is to the clear delight of her faithful.

“It has been a six year wait for her return amid motherhood, marriage and being dropped by her record label”

It is that delight, that unbridled belief, which carries Orton through an early sticky spell. Her time out of the spotlight – it has been a six year wait amid motherhood, marriage and being dropped by her record label – and the fact tonight’s audience is largely made up of fan-Dads (great swathes of whom are nearing middle-age, to call them fan-boys seems wholly inappropriate) glosses over the fact that, for a while at least, that distinctive voice of hers (which has served so well over the years) doesn’t seem to be quite up to scratch. Think husky plus tonsillitis.

Fortunately, it turns out just to be a case of early-set teething problems, and before we know it, Orton is up to speed, lulling the assembled faithful into a state something akin to hushed wonder. Shortly after this point it occurs to us that this is an artist – despite her clear propensity to introversion – entirely at ease with, and in command of, her abilities (abilities she admits to having been enhanced following taking guitar lessons from her hero Bert Jansch).

And those abilities are on display for the majority of her set. Though it is so often the case that songs sung in a live context take on a different complexion to strapping a pair of headphones on and listening to a record at home, Sugaring Season works either way, and as with that renewed confidence in her technical ability, Orton displays a real depth of assurance in the new material. It’s not a position we’re about to argue with: this is no slight return from an artist on the wane, it’s a full-blown renaissance.

Getting more or less all the way through the newish record, Orton even becomes emboldened enough to turn her hand to telling jokes: “What did the piece of cheese say when he looked in the mirror?” she asks. “Halloumi!” comes her answer. On the basis of this repertoire though, it comes as no little relief when she returns to the ‘day’ job; and with gusto.

Perhaps the highlight of the set is when she’s left sans band, crooning, eyes closed into the throngs – at this point the night is transposed from gig to something a bit special, and by the time the opening bars of haunting ‘oldie’ Central Reservation kick in, it’s hard to imagine there remains an audience-member unsated.

Beth Orton’s latest album, Sugaring Season, is out now on ANTI– records

Posted on 16/04/2013 by thedoublenegative