LIVE REVIEW: BETH ORTON – ST. STEPHEN’S UNITING CHURCH, SYDNEY (14.05.13)

Beth Orton returned to Australia to play shows in beautiful churches as part of the ‘Heavenly Sounds’ tour. She treated us to new music from her latest album Sugaring Season along with some old favourites.

Beth Orton arrives at the front of the church about ten minutes late, clutching her guitar and looking flustered. Part of Orton’s charm is that she is incredibly awkward and honest while she’s on stage, and tells us everything as it goes through her mind, even if it means interrupting the song she’s just started to play.

She starts with a beautiful a cappella version of ‘Pieces of Sky’ before moving into ‘Dawn Chorus’ from her new album. The sound in the church is secure, which is a surprise considering the high ceiling and huge space to fill. The only problem with a gig in a church is the echos that arise any time someone near you fidgets or leaves their seat. But having said that, it seems most are remembering their school days and sitting in complete silence.

Since it’s just Beth and her guitar, there isn’t really any room for errors. It’s a bit of an ask for her to fill the space with her voice, especially since she’s suffering from a cold. In some places, especially with her older work, she’s visibly nervous and even needs to stop a couple of songs and start again because they’re too overwhelming. She seems a lot more at ease with her newer songs, and new tracks such as ‘Poison Tree’ and ‘Magpie’ are standouts in this set.

When she does address the crowd briefly between songs, she does so while moving around and changing guitars, so that it’s very difficult to hear anything she says from where I’m sitting upstairs. She does say that she likes Melbourne more than Sydney at one stage, a remark that prompts a huge gasp from someone at the front.

It’s not only Beth who has a couple of awkward moments tonight. She gets towards the end of ‘Worms’ on the piano and the end of ‘Magpie’ later on, and during pauses in each song the crowd starts to clap prematurely. This doesn’t deter her though, it’s when she’s been given requests from someone at the front that she is the most nervous and self-doubting. She walks off stage after ‘She Cries Your Name’, so quickly her guitar falls off its stand and returns soon after. She apologises and says “I just really miss my kids!”. These older songs really do take a lot from her emotionally, she explains as “They’re so damn sad.”

She finishes the night with ‘Stolen Car’ and ‘Ooh Child’, and leaves to a room of applause and the occasional whistle. Overall, the music was very fitting to such a beautiful atmosphere, as melancholy as it is. Her new work is definitely worth listening to and hearing it live after it’s been more polished since her show at the City Recital Hall last year was fantastic.

She is a valuable singer and song-writer, it’s just a little unfortunate that she let her nerves and emotions get the better of her in some of her earlier songs.

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