On Saturday night, February 3, 2018 at Revolution Hall in Portland, Oregon Blues Rock Chanteuse Beth Hart kicked off her American tour promoting the 2017 release of Floor On Fire. The show promptly began at 8:00 PM when Marina V, a native of Moscow, Russia performed her enticing set. She reminded this writer of Tori Amos in her style and delivery as she stood behind her electric piano and her husband Nick on acoustic guitar. She sang about her “Inner Super Hero” and a Russian version of Neil Diamond’s 1960’s hit “Solitary Man.”
At 9:00 PM Beth Hart began her amazing performance and over the next hour and forty minutes she delighted the sold out crowd in a visually sumptuous backdrop setting that looked like blue and red flames crawling up the wall instead of curtains. She wore a black sequined dress with glitter hose and motorcycle boots, while she delivered a score of soul wrenching, ear titillating and sonically resonating songs during her set. The perimeter of the stage and the piano was lit with electric candles, as Hart opened with “Leave The Light On,” which she performed solo on the piano on the right sight of the stage. It was off her 2003 release of the same name. After the song ended she discussed feeling insecure about being cyber bullied, which led into the next song, “Saved,” off Black Coffee, the new album with Joe Bonamassa, which she said was on “YouTube.” It was a journey into ecstatic old time religion as Hart danced across the stage with her band backing her up as she belted out,
“I used to smoke,
I used to drink,
I used to smoke, drink and dance the hoochie-coo.”
The band was comprised of Jon Nichols on guitar, Bob Marinelli on bass and Bill Ransom on drums. She talked about how her mom inspired “Baby Shot Me Down” and “If I Tell You I Love You I’m Lying.” She explained that her 80 year old mother had a new boyfriend that was in his 50s. She knelt on stage in front on the edge of the stage, exuding sexiness. She was playful with the crowd and had interplay between her band members, with Jon Nichols on guitar, Bob Marinelli on bass and Bill Ransom behind the drums.
Once again behind the piano she explained that “I was drinking and wanted either booze or Jesus and I chose a bottle of Jesus.” She wailed with lead guitar Jon Nichols singing backup, singing “somebody save me,” in a completely sonic performance. She sat down at the piano again and began to play “Bang Bang, Boom Boom,” a bluesy number from her 2012 release of the same name, as she interplayed with Nichols on lead guitar. The crowd around me was familiar with the song as they sang the line “Bang bang, boom boom” repeatedly along with her.
Hart introduced “The Baddest Blues” by explaining that she wrote it for her mom and Billie Holiday. When her dad left her mom it broke her mom’s heart and she stayed in bed and just listened to the Blues icon. Then she jumped into “I’ll Take Care of You,” a Brook Benton composition first performed by Bobby Bland in 1959 that appeared on 2011’s release, Don’t Explain, her first record with Joe Bonamassa. The album was comprised of ten blues covers by everyone from Billie Holiday to Etta James. The song began with a slow piano intro and then the rest of the band joined in. Hart’s driving piano rhythm and her soaring voice filled the auditorium as she wailed and gyrated on the piano stool like she was having an orgasm. Jon Nichols took over with a short guitar solo that was sparse and minimalist until Hart took back over on the keyboard again and exploded into a series of orgasmic surges, until Nichols took over again and dove into a second guitar solo that matched the intensity of Hart’s performance, with sonic peals, off his shrieking six string that he was shamelessly shredding.
The piano led into “Jazz Man” as Hart tinkled the ivories while singing in a jazzy campy cabaret style with the rest of the band joining in with an equally jazzy accompaniment. Hart exploded out of her seat behind the piano and pogo danced across the stage as she encouraged the audience to get up which they did as the band played “Delicious Surprise.” She strutted from one end of the stage to the other as she held the microphone in her hand and danced in front of Ransom driving the beat on drums and between Nichols hammering out guitar notes and Marinelli stoically thumping his bass. She waved to the balcony and included it as she reached towards the upper levels. Then she began grabbing the hands of all the people that were in the front rows as she continued to sing.
Now I do believe.”
She continued to hold hands until the song ended and she repeated the phrase “now I do believe” with the pleading voice of a preacher calling his sinner congregation to repentance. That led into “Waterfalls” off 2007’s 37 Days, a darker composition that fell into the hard rock genre with screaming as Beth continued to dance in front of the microphone and she sang with an intensity that was matched by the bands sonic excursions. As the song ended Hart sat on a low stool that was center stage with microphone in hand and explained that she was jealous of the author of the next song because she wishes that she wrote it. The song was “Your Heart Is As Black As Night,” another composition off 2011’s Don’t Explain, written by Melody Gardot. She sang,
“Your heart is as black , your heart is as black
Oh, your heart is as black as night, as night, as night.”
Hart sang into the microphone as she bowed her head and writhed on the stool, until Nichols’ lead guitar took over and did a blues solo as he fingered the fret board. “Broken and Ugly” is another composition off 2003’s Leave The Light On. Hart donned an acoustic guitar and sat back on the stool center stage along with Nichols who sat on a stool with a 12 string to her right. She began singing and strumming her guitar as Nichols, Marinelli and Ransom jammed behind her with a driving rhythm that had a country blues flavor to it. With Nichols playing with an intensity that seemed to emit flames as the lights danced on the backdrop. “Today Came Home” was a country/folk/rock number that included Beth’s theatrics of stopping the song making the sign of the cross and then sticking her tongue out as the song resumed and her voice warbled.
She began “Isolation” from 1996’s Imortal by talking about surgeons and how she’s glad that she’s not one, but loves them because of what they can do. Marinelli left the stage as Ransom grabbed a tambourine as Hart and Nichols continued to play acoustic guitars as she gyrated and sang and made funny facial expressions as she sang.
“With your failed philosophies
And free my isolation
You will not control me
A second longer say it’s alright.”
Hart moved to the piano again and then confessed to the audience that she was addicted to hell and pain, which is why she wrote a song about it, so she sang the title song off the 2016 album that is the name of the current tour Fire On The Floor. She sang in her soaring voice until Nichols took over with his electric axe and did a short solo before leading the band into a jam that became a driving rhythm to accompany Hart’s wailing serenade. “Tell Her You Belong To Me” was the final song off her ninety minute set that she explained was about the woman that her dad left his mother for.
After Hart and the band left the stage the audience that had been floored by her performance, stomped and cheered until she returned to sit at the piano for an encore. “I wrote this for my dad” she confided, “after he failed us, his wife that he left the family for, didn’t like me, but later I found out that she was mentally ill,” so she related to that and wrote “Mama This One’s For You.” She sang with a soaring beautiful voice accompanying herself alone on piano with the candles offering the only light other than a single spotlight on her. The effect of her voice was such that tears it evoked tears of ecstatic joy.
She thanked God and began singing “My California” off 2010’s release of the same title in a voice that was as gorgeous as the mystique of the California of Steinbeck.
“You know me better than the poison in my veins
So my love remember when God forgets my name.”
Hart dedicated the final song of the night to the cleaning lady that she met the night before as she closed with “Caught Out In The Rain,” from 2012’s Bang Bang, Boom Boom release. She stood center stage at the microphone as the band came out behind her as she writhed and sang in a style reminiscent of Janis Joplin. Nichols’ Gibson wailed as he raged with a searing solo until Beth’s voice came back and built in intensity as she kneeled center stage and sang with a stellar sonic intensity down into the microphone as the band crawled along at a slow pace behind her. The slow bluesy beat moved along with a quiet euphoria as the escalating intensity built exponentially until the band exploded into a jam with Beth frantically dancing until the song concluded to thunderous applause as they left the stage and the lights came on.
Review by Bob Gersztyn