“Oh wait, it is Valentine’s Day, isn’t it?” Beth Orton said quizzically to the audience last night at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room, where she appeared as part of the American Songbook series. “How many of you are here on a date? Oh Christ…”
Orton, whose songs offer a stark, brutally honest view of relationships, might not have been the best choice for those couples seeking a Hallmark-style night out. But, for those looking for something a bit more genuine, Orton’s stripped-down set was just what the doctor ordered. Possessing one of the most powerful, distinctive voices in folk-rock, Orton started out with several tracks from 2012’s Sugaring Season, her first album in more than six years. Accompanying Orton were guitarist Emmett Kelly, bassist Tony Scherr, drummer Ben Perowsky, and the singer-songwriter Sam Amidon, whom she married in 2011.
At first, Orton sounded a bit tentative, perhaps overwhelmed by the Allen Room’s stunning view of Central Park South. (“I feel like we’re going to fall off the face of the earth!” she exclaimed.) But, once she put down her acoustic guitar – which Orton learned while pregnant with her daughter in 2007 – her voice took flight, especially in back catalog selections such as “She Cries Your Name” and the title track from 1999’s Central Reservation. But, it was her big hit “Stolen Car” that struck a dark chord on this day of wine and roses:
When every line speaks the language of love
And never held the meaning I was thinking of
And I’ve lost the line between right or wrong
I just want to find the place where I belong
For her encore, Orton returned onstage alone, performing “Something More Beautiful” on the Allen Room’s Steinway Model D, which she said, “sounds amazing, especially after the shit piano I played in Boston last night!” She brought the band back out for one last number, sans Amidon, who had already left for the evening; maybe he had to run out to Duane Reade before getting on the tour bus.
The American Songbook series, which continues through April 5, pitches a big tent that includes everything from Broadway and cabaret, to indie and alt-country. In other words: it’s not all for everyone. Check the calendar for shows that align with your particular tastes.
More pics on the photo page.