To headline a regal venue like the Royal Albert Hall takes a special performance (such as Alter Bridge with an orchestra) or a special band. And to sell it out even moreso. And in 2018, very few of those artists exist. Cue Beth Hart. She’s one of them. Selling out the iconic London venue and a glance at the tracklist before hitting the play button, you know this was a special one.
And from the minute it begins, it is. Entering the darkened room and walking among the crowd to shake hands and exchange hugs, she sings “As Long As I Have a Song” acapella, shock and awe visible on the audience’s faces before she joins her band onstage for the rousing “For My Friends”. What follows is two hours of immense power as Hart runs through a career-spanning catalogue and showing how many styles she’s put her name to.
There’s sultry moments with “Close to My Fire”, “Bang Bang Boom Boom” is re-worked to become more Southern and country, “Spiders in My Bed” takes the evening in a more rootsy direction whilst “Spirit of God” is bouncy and Hart describes her first time in a Baptist Revival church as a rock show. And she’s about the only person who can do that and force you to laugh with her frank honesty.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of bluesy moments, showing how diverse blues can be such as “Your Heart is Black as Night”, the grittier and raucous “Saved” and “Baddest Blues”. “Sister Heroine” is also included, Hart’s tribute to her departed sister, Sharon, and while the man in the top hat may not be there to join her for the song, when the guitar solo hits, you can tell instantly this was one of her two songs with Slash.
“Waterfalls” sees Hart re-join the crowd to shake more hands and dole out more hugs. And even if she hadn’t done so, she has a magnetism about her performance that makes playing in such a large room feel like the intimacy of a club show. The magnitude of the night isn’t lost on her or her bandmates as they give it their all and play as a well-oiled machine.
However, it’s towards the tail end of the set where the real highlights come. Hart plays the last few songs herself with her piano to deliver a spine-tingling performance. It’s loaded with power and emotion and just like the rest of the set, she’s not afraid to get real. She happily discusses her battles with the audience to share in her life’s journey, most of it is injected with humour and as “Leave the Light On” starts, dedicating the song to her husband through sobs and is a touching moment before she marshals to tackle the subject of how she thought she wasn’t good enough for music.
And as the band rejoin her for the encore, it’s the final song of the night where band and Hart leave nothing behind as they throw themselves into “Caught Out in the Rain”. She delivers the finale on her knees, a picture of someone overcome with the moment before bringing her team onstage to introduce them before thanking her band and they depart.
As a live album and DVD – it’s great. The production is flawless and what you’ll find on the DVD is also present on the CD. There’s an anecdote about the night’s setlist missing from the CD but nothing else has been chopped. Camera changes are logical, swapping between close ups and wide shots to show just how many people are crammed in. Soft fades are included for the sombre moments and snappier ones for the harder-edged moments. You’ll also find a couple of bonus features on the DVD – a behind-the-scenes montage of how much work goes into pulling off a show this size and a half-hour interview with Hart. She talks about all aspects of her life: how she got into music, playing piano, her addictions, her mental health, the revitalisation she found in her career and towards the end, the show itself.
This is a career-defining moment for Beth Hart and to not record such a seminal performance would have been a crime. She bares her soul for over two hours, letting the crowd know who she is between her songs and her talking between. As someone so in love with the idea of music, she’s conscious of being real with the audience – her life hasn’t been the easiest and she’s reaping the rewards for fighting through the hard times.