Live Review: Beth Orton – Koko, London 09.10.2022

Don Blandford

Beth Orton made me cry. Her surprising cover of The Ronettes song I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine on her debut Trailer Park is electric with emotion and sad resignation. Beth’s trademark fragility hugged my soul and cured a bout of twenty-something gloomy angst. Beth does this.

Now touring her eighth studio album – the recently released Weather Alive – we find Beth headlining in the magnificent surroundings of KOKO in Camden.

Every time Beth takes to the stage it feels like it’s her first time – such is her apparent shyness. Tonight, Orton again seems a nervous, unassuming soul. This lack of ego is charming. Glancing across to her band, taking a deep breath, Beth is ready…well she will be once the fairy lights around her keyboard are switched on.

Seated at her keyboard Beth begins with the title track from her new album. Setting the tone for the evening Weather Alive is introspective, intimate and veers away from the early ‘folktronica’ Orton used to make and moves toward the kind of territory inhabited by Agnes Obel. The emotion of Friday Night follows with Beth’s quivering frailty laid bare “forgot that I had bones, forgot that I could feel…”.

Beth ventures out from her keyboards to her guitar through the evening. The songs from this new album are full of introspection and reflection suggesting that they were written during the lockdown or at a time of change for Beth. The cathartic vibe permeates everything here. Fractals is a little more driven and strip away the instrumentation of Haunted Satellite and it’s really a blues song.

Beth’s choice of songs from her back catalogue also emphasises the downbeat and her quiet introspective nature. Pass In Time from the Central Reservation album is simply beautiful whilst Sweetest Decline smothers KOKO with familiar warmth as she sings “what’s the use in regret, it’s just things we haven’t done yet…”. Lovely and lilting.

More follows from the Weather Alive album before the biggest applause arrives for the haunting perfection of She Cries Your Name from Trailer Park – still a striking song some quarter of a century after it was first released. Similarly, it’s glorious to hear Central Reservation played live.

There is lightness too. Just before starting another song Beth looks up, points at the impressive glitter ball in the gorgeous ceiling of the venue and asks for it to be switched on. She also gives a shout out to her mates – “the massive” stood high up near that ornate ceiling.

A sense of isolation still dominates the evening and the final song from her main set is the contemplative Unwritten.

Beth returns for an encore – asks the audience what the time is and of course people in the audience lie, suggesting it’s earlier than it is. Listening to a Beth Orton gig is an engrossing experience like being cosy on the sofa whilst reading a good novel – so why would anyone ever want it to end? Lonely is the last remaining song from Weather Alive left to play and exposes yet more brittleness – “lonely, lonely, lonely likes my company…”. Then there’s the sweeping simplicity of Blood Red River which just showcases Beth’s voice even more. The evening ends with the lighter, more airy Call Me The Breeze from Sugaring Season.

Beth doesn’t so much wear her heart on her sleeve she pretty much wears the shirt. As reserved as she appears, Orton always seems to be working things out in her songs…working herself out, perhaps. The songs from Weather Alive feel like a purging, an artist sussing out where she’s at – an artist who’s had time to reflect. Like that involuntary, satisfying sigh after a weeping cry Beth Orton inhabits a cathartic space. Endearing and essential.

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