BETH ORTON: Back on the road and back in Liverpool’s heart

The cheery box office lady is shivering away as the night chills settle in on Liverpool’s legendary venue The Kazimier. We’re taken aback as we struggle through the dense crowds who are soaking up support band THE LEISURE SOCIETY. Eager gig-goers line the staircases and fill the balconies from end to end. As they filter to the bars during the break, we take time to admire the glorious design of the venue which has something of a theatrical atmosphere, the intimate layout giving the feel of crowds leaning into or even onto the stage. We’re particularly tickled by the piano-bar (literally a bar built on or around a piano which sadly no longer functions) and faux horse-drawn carriage, upstairs.

There is a distinct buzz ringing in the air as BETH ORTON fans anticipate the Brit award-winning, twice Mercury Prize nominated Norfolk-born singer-songwriter’s entry onto the stage. Finally, emerging to a lengthy round of applause and spirited whoops, Beth is dressed in a snappy black number, hair back, and with band in tow.

She seals opener “Call Me the Breeze” off her first album in six years “Sugaring Season,” to a tremendous reception. Someone to her right yells out “Beth! Photo!” to which Beth sheepishly spins round and smiles sweetly – and she’s already won over the crowd. After the second track, she happily grabs the mug from her side-table, “There’s nothing better when doing rock ‘n’ roll than a nice cup of tea!” and she can do no wrong with the Liverpool fans.

There’s minimal chit-chat, but the crowds are hanging on her every utterance and absorbing her distinctive vocals which are truly astonishing live. Describing Beth Orton’s live voice is a challenge – it’s so varied, fluctuating between bold and feisty, and torn and fragile, the variations balanced with the lyrics and instrumentals throughout the set. Her live performances have often been referred to as meditative and hypnotic, and tonight is no exception. She has an indisputable quirky charm – any awkwardness or nerves between tracks fade away as she disappears into every song, and she shows genuine surprise at and gratitude for the adoration emanating from the floor.

By the time we get to new track “Something More Beautiful” which she performs solo, she has the audience transfixed. For “Last Leaves of Autumn” she moves over to the keys, letting her soulful sounds and heartfelt words dance across the venue where you could hear a pin drop (“I have tried to live each day as a last / I have found life is long and I’ve gone and got a past / And it’s best to stand in the shelter of my love”) – this track symbolizing how Beth Orton has retained her connection with her audience, and has made very good use indeed of life’s ups and downs during her 6-year hiatus to develop quality songs of depth, reflecting her personal journey.

A moment of nostalgia again, as we’re treated to “Paris Train” off her 2002 “Daybreaker” album: “Now I´m sitting on a Paris train / Molten ash falls like rain / Fire burns the trees / It´s a beautiful fatality / Love the way you stand your ground / Sea moves as mercury / To break its perfect skin / To dare to dive within,” reminding us of Beth’s much-beloved killer lyrics. On to “Central Reservation” off the 1999 album of the same title, for which she won the Brit Best Female award and her second Mercury Prize nomination, and we’ve been fully transported back to the Orton glory days – the song closes to cheers.

And here comes the blistering “Stolen Car” (“Some may sing the wrong words to the wrong melody / It’s little things like this that matter to me”). She takes a breather to introduce her band including folk artist husband Sam Amidon, and follows this with the hauntingly mesmerizing “She Cries Your Name,” accompanied by a mix of tentative singing along and shushing as the crowds soak up every last sound from the stage. She closes with the sensitively sung “Ooh Child” and within seconds, she’s gone… soon to reappear at the merch desk to the delight of the fans.

Tonight, Beth Orton left us all feeling inspired and, honestly, a little relieved to see her back in the swing of performing and writing new material. Her new album and live shows are already putting into perspective for many the strength and purity of her craftsmanship, in sharp contrast with some of the tamer songwriting going on in the UK these days.