It’s been 15 years since the release of Central Reservation, the polished mix of folk, jazz and dance-inflected astral tweaks that bagged Beth Orton a Brit award and solidified her enduring image as the queen of palliative post-club playlists. An anniversary-marking double-album edition came out this week, with Orton embarking on a mini tour to support it. In front of a hushed, seated audience, she seems a little bemused by the whole thing. “I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do when you rerelease a record,” she confides. “I feel like I should tell a story.” In the end, Orton destarches the reverent atmosphere by goofing around between songs, pulling faces and teasing her four-piece band.
At these sort of gigs, artists generally play the album in sequence, before throwing in some hits for the encore, and Orton initially sticks to the blueprint. Stolen Car remains a deceptively purposeful opener: despite the refrain about “the feeling that I just do not belong”, it’s Orton’s vocal line that consistently preempts and leads the song. After the soft swing of Sweetest Decline and shimmering Couldn’t Cause Me Harm, she goes off-piste, reordering tracks seemingly on the fly and interpolating newer songs, such as the cheerfully ramshackle Shopping Trolley and the soothing, chugging Call Me the Breeze. These detours, and Orton’s infectious irreverence, enliven what could have been a dry curatorial exercise. Almost all of Central Reservation gets revisited, including the title track, in a loop-enhanced version that acknowledges the impact of its various remixes. But Orton holds back some key songs for the encore, including the album’s seven-minute centrepiece, Pass in Time. The original features backing vocals from the late Terry Callier, but Orton’s solo version, just her and her guitar, is also a spine-tingling marvel.