For a quarter of a century, Beth Hart has produced some of the most wonderful music, straddling the line of rock and blues with a healthy dose of jazz in places to keep things interesting. Meanwhile, with her own personal life, she has endured but is not afraid to confront the fact she’s survived so much as part of her on-stage demeanor.
Off the back of her Fire On the Floor album, Hart and her band took to the stage at New York City’s Iridium Jazz Club to showcase some of those songs as well as delving into her back catalogue. Thirteen years after her last live album, Live From New York: Front and Center shows Hart at her best, right in time for her return to the UK (minus Scotland).
What this DVD/CD does is show how comfortable Hart is performing and who she is as a person. Between storytelling and drawing on her own experiences for lyrics, her honest and frank humour shows who she is as a person and immediately gives the impression she’s like that off-stage. Not only that, it shows how comfortable she and her band are playing on a tiny, cramped stage in an intimate club compared to their more standard bigger stages and crowds.
Naturally, one of the big focal points is Hart’s voice. It’s one of a kind, showing versatility with songs like the playful opener “Let’s Get Together” and the heavier “Fat Man”. Meanwhile, there’s tenderness on songs like “As Long as I Have a Song” and “Leave a Light On” which she precedes with some words about her belief, at her lowest ebb, that she didn’t deserve to write music as she sits behind her piano. Watching this performance, it’s proof the world would be that little but important bit worse off without her music. Regardless of her whispers or throaty screams, the voice is magnetic and one certain to send shivers down your spine.
Elsewhere she shows her skills on the DVD’s bonus features with “Isolation” seeing her use an acoustic bass and acoustic guitar on “Broken and Ugly” whilst the main DVD and CD sees her use it for “St Teresa” (regardless of your opinion of the woman, Hart’s anecdote on Mother Teresa’s definition of grace is one we should aspire to). It’s a touching song and shows Hart at her most vulnerable.
Whilst the DVD may contain a couple of intros cut off compared to the CD, the latter does contain a couple of extra tracks. Although, these do feature in the bonus section of the DVD. The only real stumbling block the DVD runs into is Hart’s encore on her own. Both the CD and the DVD main performances end with Hart at her piano performing “As Long as I Have a Song” before she summons her band to take a final bow. Yet watching the bonus “No Place Like Home” features the exact same thing, only cut slightly differently and it’s this one which is obviously the real one.
Discrepancy aside, there’s some great tracks put onto the bonus section and it does it a disservice not to have them as part of the main performance. There’s also a pre-show interview with Hart and much like her on-stage performances, she’s enthusiastic about her music and life in general, touching on Leonard Cohen and calling her piano her altar. She’s more than willing to discuss her previous issues like her father leaving the family home at a young age and her battles with Bipolar Disorder and addiction. She’s in good spirits and just like on stage, she oozes a cool charisma and her endearing personality shows it’s not just for performing.
Whilst no two sets from Hart are ever the same, making each night special, Hart is clearly enjoying herself in the intimate jazz club. In love not only with her music but music as an entirety, she’s one of the best performers the world has combined with her other-worldly voice. If you can make it to one of the UK dates, as someone who’s seen her twice, do it. You’ll never see anything like it, and that includes this DVD.
Live From New York: Front and Center is out now