I saw Beth Orton at Town Hall in New York City last October and it was a fantastic show. I had great seats and, despite having a bit of a cold, she was in fine form. The charmingly shy British folk singer played every song I could have hoped for, and with plenty of heart. It was fantastic.
This time around she was booked at Le Poisson Rouge, an eclectic club in the old Village Gate space. Technically translated as the red fish, it really means goldfish. And it couldn’t be any more different than Town Hall. Bare-bones, no seating, cement floor, low ceiling – far better suited for the Sex Pistols than an act like Orton. And stand-alone AC units provided a constant hum in the back of the room, which was often drowned out by people chatting near the bar.
And this baffles me. You pay $35 to see a show – grant it, far cheaper than most – and then stand around and chat with your friends throughout it? Or bury your face in your handheld, texting with someone? Call me old-fashioned, but do people at least still pay attention during sex? Kids these days!
Though it wasn’t really kids in this case. Orton attracts a strange mix. You’ve got your experimental lesbian couples longing for a return of the Lilith Fair. There were plenty of creepy old geezers with long beards, wandering around on their own with over-stuffed backpacks (if there hadn’t been so many, I would have assumed that they were just guys collecting empty bottles and cans). But the bulk of the crowd were hipster couples. You know, where the guys have bigger purses than their ladies.
But for all the drawbacks of the rustic setting, the incessant chatting, and a less than two-hour show, I did get to see Beth Orton up close and personal. That’s the upside of a small venue like Le Poisson Rouge.
And once again, she dazzled me. The woman conjures up adjectives like darling and delightful. She so shy yet affable. If I could write the word “brilliant” with her Norwichian accent I would. She’s utterly charming in her discomfort on stage.
That is until she starts playing, and then it’s all passion. She’s one of those genuine artists. There’s no conference room full of consultants shaping her every move like so many other female singers these days. She’s the real deal, and she’s got buckets of talent – so much so that she doesn’t have to slip into a sexy outfit, slap on swaths of make-up, and prance around on an elaborate set. She doesn’t even have to do her hair. She can just sing, and play the guitar, or the piano. It’s all about the music…her sweet, beautiful music.
She was accompanied by her husband, Sam Amidon, who is surely talented enough to share the stage with her yet mellow enough not to crowd it. He was also with her at Town Hall, along with that great guy on piano. I don’t remember the drummer or bassist, but at times the band really rocked it. In fact, they started the show plugged in, with flashbacks to folktronica, before drifting into mostly acoustic numbers.
Perhaps the most memorable moment came when she and Sebastian the bassist did a duet. He plucked at an upright bass while she sang Galaxy of Emptiness. And even if she didn’t play that many songs, that one was all I really needed. She poured her heart out. It was a high-water mark. And I’ll have that moment for the rest of my life.
Thanks, Beth. You knocked me off my feet for a while.