You missed a wonderful show this past Wednesday night at the Triple Door. Beth Orton, the English singer/songwriter with the gorgeous voice, came through town for the umpteenth time. You’ve probably heard of Orton, and even if the name doesn’t sound familiar, you’ve probably heard a song or two of hers (if you were listening to decent radio at the end of the 90s).
She’s touring solo this time out, just her and a guitar (or a grand piano, but not at the same time). “There are benefits to playing these shows solo. You get to ride trains, and boats… shit like that,” she said between songs. Followed by a muttered “and I get to play whatever I want.” Whatever she “wants” turned out to be a good balance of new and old. I personally haven’t kept up with Orton’s career over the past two decades, even though I remain a big fan of her first two widespread albums, Trailer Park and Central Reservation. She’s released 6 albums over the last 20 years, with the most recent, Sugaring Season, having come out last year about this time.
This is Orton’s second time through Seattle supporting this album. But this time, solo, is different. Seeing a performer play by themselves in front of a packed room (even the Triple Door, which is spacious, but with fewer people due to the table seating) and tell personal stories about love and loss through words and song can be deeply moving. Even though it was just her on the stage, Orton played with a great range of volume — drawing the audience forward for the quieter moments, and energizing us during the extremes.
The opener for the night, Portland’s Laura Gibson, joined Orton on stage to sing harmony on three songs. Gibson’s voice is quieter than Orton’s, and she provided a nice, demure accompaniment. On one song in particular, Gibson was quite excited to sing the harmony, because “this song was originally sung by Beth and another Laura, a friend of mine, Laura Viers. And now I get to sing it!”
Orton played many songs from her older records, which made the sold-out crowd at the Triple Door very pleased. Not much singing along to the songs could be heard — the Triple Door has amazing acoustics, and you could easily drown out the performers with your own singing if you weren’t careful — but the atmosphere in the dinner theater was that of pleasant enjoyment.
Where Orton’s set had dynamism and loud emotion, Laura Gibson’s opening set was quietly dark. (Which was odd, considering the house lights stayed up for the length of her set. I suppose most of the audience was still eating dinner.) I didn’t see any recognition of Gibson’s work on the audience’s faces, but I did see a good number of them stop eating and pay attention to the beautiful, sometimes dour, and sometimes very raw storytelling on stage.
Some of those stories could also be funny. Gibson told a story of having been added to her old high school’s Sports Hall of Fame (for track & field, in which she was apparently an excellent jumper). “I worked very hard at it. I’m convinced all that work will pay off sometime in the future, when I need to vault over something major,” she said, of her recently recognized skill in the high jump.
As her last song of the set, Gibson pulled off a rare feat for an opening act — she got the audience to sing along. And most people were game, from what I could see, which was a fairly large commitment. Gibson gave us a bass line (and accompanying harmony) to sing throughout the length of a song, to which she sang a cappella on top of. It was a good couple of minutes of singing, and I enjoyed participating in it, along with seemingly everyone else in the venue.
It’s great to see two amazing voice talents performing solo in an idyllic stage setting. Both artists are clearly very happy with where they are in their careers, and continue to make a mark on those that are listening.