Beth Hart / Kris Barras Duo –
City Hall, Sheffield, Thursday 20th February, 2020
Set List: Heart On Your Sleeve/What You Get/Rain/Vegas Son/Midnight Rider/Hail Mary.
Now it's been a damn good while since I was sat here in the City Hall, Sheffield and tonight like the previous visit it is pretty much packed out much to the delights on UK Bluesman, Kris Barras who tonight is playing in duo form with Josiah Manning. The boy haven't been doing it too long acoustically in from of an audience but you'd never guess this at all.
Instead of simply 2 acoustics, Joe is also taking care of bass notes and drums with his feet – hence one boot on and the other foot with a sock. Kris joked that he tried it while they supported John Mayall but realised that his right hand man did a better job so left the joy up to him. The sound was really full up there and they went down really well to an older crowd who may or many not have heard The Kris Barass Band before.
It did seem strange seeing and hearing them in unplugged format us as we have been used to full electric as are the men themselves. It gave them a chance to try out songs in a different style and re-arrange them to suit the occasion. In fact, you'd be forgiven if you thought the songs were always intended to be performed in this musical manner, maybe some were in the early days, especially the opening 'Heart On Your Sleeve' with it's amazing high harmony vocals that's coupled with that incredible Dixie fuelled, guitar driven riff.
The Southern sounds shine through so so good in here tonight and they even knock out a spot-on rendition of 'Midnight Rider' by The Allman Brothers – the one where they've got one more silver dollar left – yep the penny has dropped! They wore their hearts on there sleeves tonight and finished off with their powerfully energetic and brilliant 'Hail Mary' with it's chorus to die for. I have a gut feeling that they will have created quite a few more fans during this support tour – in fact, an Unplugged album wouldn't go amiss in time to come.
Tonight's headliner, Beth Hart had a full electric band who backed her up whenever she needed it. I had never witnessed her presence before but had heard or seen good things over the past few years in the blues, rock and country field. She comes from Los Angeles, USA and made quite a name for herself over in these past in the last couple of decades.
She opened up with 'Lullaby' that saw Beth at down at the front that was very Edith Piaf meets Billie Holiday and followed it up with one that had loads of wailing and strangeness in it. She had us doing the same – bizarre you might say – it sure was – they loved it though – very jazzyish as well. A very full warm sound filled the City Hall and she was happy to be there for us, proving this by walking all round the audience in the stalls, hugging, kissing and shaking hands with loads of fans plus a few pix with them too. She even played a song or two shouted out by the audience like the beautiful 'Picture In A Frame'.
Her family mean a lot to her to say the least as from the piano she sang a song a song about her Dad who she said was often flown out to gamble in Las Vegas (Try A Little Harder) because he made them so much money and one about her Mum (Mama This One's For You) as a thank you for being an amazing parent and not totally appreciating what it really meant to be a mother until later and the love it gave.
Later telling us about a dear friend called 'Helen' in the audience who had flown out to look after her mum when she was sick at her own expense. This lady was in the front row too, who came up to give Beth a hug after a number she had dedicated to her called 'Thankful' that was played with just an acoustic guitar– a special moment indeed. Other major highlights of her set were the bombastic and bluesy 'Love Is A Lie' and a fantastic cover of the Southern and Gospel filled 'Soulshine' by Warren Haynes (The Allman Brothers Band/Gov't Mule) and the fantastic 'Baddest Blues'.
It wasn't all happy times in the set since a lot of it was rather on the negative where she sang about feeling down sat at the piano since she does suffer from mental illness and in the past been an alcoholic, saying she was now 5 years sober. Many ballads were played during the night that weren't exactly uplifting for me and my buddy Steve. The audience however seemed to identify with her issues (as Mr. Cooper pointed out later) and showed their appreciation of how she deals with her troubles throughout her turbulent life.
It was nice when a long blonde haired guy came on stage for a brief few seconds on her left who she said was her husband, Scott (Guetzkow). It's great when a couple can go on tour together and it no doubt gives Beth that extra special loving shoulder to lean on in times of need. In her past she did a stint with Joe Bonamassa who she even wrote a song a about and performed for us on piano since she was so blown away by him.
We got a cool unplugged session with her band members all sat along side Ms Hart where she really got into the musical groove and vibe of the moment – getting down with it and rocking away to the beat and great performing of her group at such close range. It made a real change to see her drummer, Bill Ransom using brushes as well. John Nichols was on guitar duties with Tom Lee taking care of the bass.
Much of the material worked in this format but she became unstuck on 'I'd Rather Go Blind' and dropped it a good halfway in because the electric guitar solo work could not be replicated acoustically plus she wanted the big backing vocals too – the band members seemed a bit surprised and put out. She said let's do a song we know and carried on then as if nothing had happened which saved their bacon.
They played the full Etta James classic electrically which worked perfect and had the audience to their feet while it was performed in the encore. What I did seem strange though was that she ended the show on a couple of piano ballads that weren't exactly party pieces to finish the night off with. She did bring her band on at the end for a bow but I personally think it would have been way better to finish on a full band performance or two which would have got everyone out their seats again, clapping and jiving away...
I wonder if all her shows finish like this or are they different every single night depending on how she is feeling?
Review By Glenn Milligan
Photographs by Mal Whichelow, David Pickles & Olivia Johnston