Saturday, 30 March 2013

Beth Hart: Live at the Olympia ©

I discovered Beth Hart through my Dad who is a serious rock and blues aficionado. I was home over Christmas a few years ago and I heard her and instantly loved the music: heartfelt lyrics, soulful melodies and an incredible, powerful voice. She started out in 1993 but her first real success came in 1999 when her hit LA Song (Out of this Town) was featured in Beverly Hills 90210. She has released 11 albums over the years but she is still a relatively marginal act, known to blues fans and a handful of others, but never truly famous, thus maintaining an authenticity denied to commercial acts. On Thursday evening I attended her concert at the Paris Olympia and was blown away by not just her sensational talent, but also how real she was. Here is a woman who has seen it all and her back catalogue is testament to the rollercoaster of her life.

I was excited beforehand as much for the venue as the artist as I’d heard good things about the Olympia, a concert hall that opened back in 1889 and has hosted such legends as Edith Piaf, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. Located on Boulevard des Capucines in the Opera district, it has a distinctive appearance, featuring the artist of the day in giant red lights on the building’s façade, oozing with retro glamour. Enter the Olympia and you have the feeling that you have stepped into a bygone era, with red the order of the day: carpet, lights and seats. And in contrast to the soulless arenas played by international superstars, the Olympia is really just a theatre, with a seating capacity of 1772. As I sat there on Thursday night, enjoying the Danish supporting act, Mike Tramp – an artist that reminded me of one of my all-time heroes, John Mayer – I was enchanted by the intimacy of the place. The venue played a huge role in setting the tone for this concert, not least because it was praised incessantly by both headline and supporting acts, who stressed their honour at playing on such a legendary stage. 

And as for the concert itself: Beth Hart immediately showed herself to be humble and genuine, expressing her delight to have sold out the Olympia and her desire to succeed in France. She thanked the audience profusely and maintained a connection with us throughout the show, asking us to get to our feet, getting us to sing along and opening her heart to us about her life and the heartbreak she has suffered. A drug addict 13 years ago, her songs reflect the pain that she has gone through and she introduced many of them with anecdotes from her past, including the time when her now-husband would visit her in rehab and ultimately save her from herself. Their love for each other was there for all to see and she dedicated the final song of the evening to him, the title track from the My California album, and the most angst-ridden performance of the night.

Yet despite playing the blues, the majority of Beth Hart’s songs have an undeniably positive edge to them – Beth Hart is an artist to dance to. And her positivity through the heartbreak is evident in the songs that she chooses to perform live, favouring jazzy blues numbers and rocking guitar solos over the more heart-rending collection on My California. Her sense of humour is also evident and she introduced many of her more quirky numbers with amusing stories, revealing another side of her personality.

                Beth Hart performing Ugliest House on the Block at "Les Nocturnes"

The overriding feeling that I took away from the concert was that I had just experienced real music. I too enjoy listening to international, commercially successful artists, but there was something about this concert that was authentic and touching. This was not an artist producing a generic setlist night after night but rather a woman bearing her soul to her audience and actively involving them in the show. Her excitement to be there was refreshing and endearing and her endless talent awe-inspiring. From the piano to her powerhouse voice, self-penned tracks, choice of supporting act and choice of band, Beth Hart is a woman who truly loves music.

Appearing on stage in heels, an elegant red dress and heavily tattooed arms, she is a visual paradox but as the show unfolds, it becomes clear that the ups and downs of her life have simply transformed her into a multi-faceted character with a fascinating story to tell. An inspiring night at the Olympia with Beth Hart!

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