Gig Review: Beth Hart / Connor Selby – Symphony Hall, Birmingham (9th March 2023)

It’s a dark, wet night in Birmingham but it’s not stopping droves of people braving the wet for tonight. From the outside, the Symphony Hall looks like any typical exhibition space or shopping centre. But inside, it’s something magnificent; truly fitting of tonight’s show, the person and that voice. Of course, it’s the inimitable Beth Hart. Making her return to the UK, the tour comes just over a year since last year’s Led Zeppelin covers album and three years since her last visit to these shores, this has been a long time coming. 

First up, it’s Connor Selby working his way through a quick half-hour set for the healthy crowd which has already taken their seats. With soulful vocals and deft guitar playing, he’s ably assisted by Joe Anderton providing some excellent rhythm work. Despite looking like he shouldn’t be out this late without a note from his parents, Selby’s lyrics and guitar work show real maturity. “The Deep End” is all about throwing yourself in there and taking those risks we’re scared to but probably should and one of the highlights of a solid set.  

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As the two guitarists of Selby and Anderton work together, it may be Selby’s name on the bill but there’s a real partnership between the pair of them and would be a lesser set if there was only one guitar. Instead, that fleshed out sound provides extra light and depth as Selby touches on multiple variations of blues with Delta, Chicago and Detroit stylings all putting in an appearance. However, as it builds up to its finale, the slightly rockier number gives him a worthy crescendo to end on. Bringing out shades of Clapton and sludgier moments of Led Zeppelin, it allows Selby to show what his voice is truly capable of. It soars at points before dropping down to murmurs laced with bitterness. In terms of warming up the crowd, Selby certainly does that with his easy dose of blues, taking one final round of applause, much louder and enthusiastic than those which precede it. 

Beth Hart © Andy Shaw
Beth Hart © Andy Shaw

Three men take to the stage and begin the soft intro to “Love Gangster” before Beth Hart nonchalantly follows them in time for her first vocal. There’s a hint of sultriness to it, mixed with the venom necessary for the number. Hart stalks the stage like a lion tracking its prey and by the time she’s finished this first song, she’s already displayed the mighty range her pipes have. From purrs to roars and everything in-between, she has the room enraptured. 

The bouncy “Delicious Surprise” follows with Hart working in some early call-and-response which needs little encouragement for the audience to join in and Hart’s own delight is written across her face. There’s also gritty rendition of “When the Levee Breaks” which she jokingly asks people not to be too harsh on her for taking on a full album of Zeppelin. But there’s no shit thrown at her because in the live environment, it’s even better. Whilst the latter may not be a Zeppelin song (which also works in an interpolation of “Dancing Days”), she and her band stay faithful to that version and it’s this opening trio which encapsulates Hart’s back catalogue. From raging rockers to playfulness to soulful vulnerability, she brings it all in equal measure.   

Indeed, it’s that vulnerability which elevates her performance. Wearing her heart on her sleeve so unashamedly, it may as well be part of the tattoos on her arms, telling her stories with as much passion and fervour as she does her vocals. Those moments never feel scripted and the authenticity pours from her. She openly discusses her past, making jokes such as her husband giving her a row for swearing too much the night before in Glasgow (speaking as an ex-pat, I’d imagine she was just immersing herself in the culture) and explaining where her songs have come from such as the heartbreak she experienced from her pastor leaving or her mother’s partner leaving her for another man.  

There’s also an ease and enthusiasm with which Hart introduces her band early on, much like her vocals, they’ve been impeccable all night. Working as one fluid unit and the three of them having been with her for over twenty years, they’re all exceptionally proficient on their respective instruments. Hart is also given space and respect to perform on her own at the piano throughout the set, solemnity emanating from her in these moments and it feels like she’s performing to each person in the room on an individual level. She even takes a turn on acoustic guitar, joking with guitarist Jon Nichols that she’s scared to hold it, such is the reverance she has for her bandmate. Using it to play “The Ugliest House on the Block”, explaining it as a metaphor for her own self-doubt as well as the house she got with her husband (and road manager), joking that their original place was far too pristine and safe to inspire her to write a song.   

Beth Hart © Andy Shaw
Beth Hart © Andy Shaw

She displays her vocal dexterity with extreme finesse, performing the kind of gymnastics that has long established her as one of the best around. Combined with her lyricism, the delivery allows her soul to pour from her, every emotion of the human experience uncovered in the two hour set. Between the breathy whispers and top-end belts, Hart creates a moving and spellbinding performance and there’s at least one moment per song where it causes goosebumps and it’s not unwelcome.  

Towards the end of the night, there’s a stripped-back section as there’s acoustic guitar, double bass and a less bombastic drum kit. Bill Ransom (drums), who has spent the entire night showing his versatility, it’s on this portion where he digs even deeper. The up-tempo “Sugar Shack” takes on a more lounge style and is massively extended but never overstays its welcome. Meanwhile, back in electric land, Nichols drives a ballsy version of “Voodoo Chile”. 

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But it’s the encore where the final run of songs allow Hart and band to shine even brighter. The natural flow of “No Quarter” into the gritty and bombastic “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” (again, just like the album) shows the majesty of the band Hart so easily covered whilst also their own skills. And as one final parting shot, Hart takes a final turn on her own, perching herself on a monitor to say goodbye and explain the final song. Explaining that this final song comes from Callie Day, a woman who has no social media footprint except for other people videoing her performances nor does she take any money for singing, the gospel-based number is powerful as any of Hart’s own material, regardless of your leanings of religion. 

It’s been over six years since I last saw Beth Hart and she continues to astound and amaze. With a voice that should be considered the eighth wonder of the world, it captivates as much as her magnetic performance with no sense of a stage persona – what you see is what you get with her. In a visually and acoustically beautiful building, Hart and her voice are a perfect match. Whilst a couple of her “obvious” songs like “Sister Heroine” and mesmerising “Leave the Light On” weren’t featured tonight, the performance isn’t wanting for them and there’s always a next time. And even if they aren’t there then, it’ll still be nothing short of stunning. 

Photos by Andy Shaw

Beth Hart: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube

Connor Selby: official | facebook | twitter | instagram

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