Beth Orton bounces back after a stint at Bondi

SEAN SENNETT From: The Australian January 17, 2012 12:00AM

The Old Museum, Brisbane, January 15

IT has been six years since Beth Orton’s previous tour of Australia. This time, the artist once known for her work at the forefront of folktronica is travelling light.

Orton has reverted to a stripped-down presentation under the umbrella of her sole acoustic guitar and fine voice. Much has been made of the singer’s relatively low profile in recent times. A commitment to motherhood and a need to refocus on her music has seen Orton re-emerge with a battery of new songs. Shortly before arriving in Australia, Orton completed work on a new album: her first since 2006’s Comfort of Strangers.

Brisbane’s the Old Museum is impressive from the outside: the large space inside provides strong acoustics and, on an alcohol-free evening such as tonight, a community hall feel.

Orton likes to fiddle with various acoustic tunings throughout her set, but it is worth the wait. In superb voice, she began with Heart of Soul, Someone’s Daughter and Countenance. She revealed that much of her new work was written during a stint at Bondi Beach and she performed a handful of these new tunes: all were top-drawer. They newer songs sat comfortably in the mix alongside her “hits”.
Never taking herself too seriously, Orton laughed at the bum guitar notes she hit on Sweet Decline and pressed on. Despite confessing her nerves and refusing to blame any loss of memory for certain guitar chords on her recent pregnancy, she was completely at home on stage. Her patter was a blend of self-deprecation and observational humour. Confessing a love of Brisbane, she marvelled that it reminded her of childhood, quite possibly because “it’s the last place on earth without Wi-Fi”.

The songs flowed and as Orton took to the piano, a new tune, Candle, was a standout. Back on guitar, She Cries Your Name demonstrated Orton’s considerable melodic gifts. She talked of receiving guitar tuition from the late great guitarist Bert Jansch and performed All I Do in his honour.

Opening act and Orton’s partner Sam Amidon returned to the stage to add guitar to Sugar Boy, Shopping Trolley and harmonise on Concrete Sky.

Alone again, she called for requests and from the small barrage offered performed a beautiful reading of Stolen Car.

For an artist who readily admits to being rusty, Orton’s performance was in equal parts sublime and compelling.

Orton plays City Recital Hall, Sydney, tonight and tomorrow, then Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. Tickets: $55-$65. Bookings: 132 849.

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