Over the Weekend: Beth Hart at the Echoplex
Last night all eyes, ears, and most importantly hearts were on none other than native Los Angelena singer/songwriter Beth Hart. A loud, loyal, and animated Echoplex audience of 400 whistled, shuffled, and screamed their approval as the melodiously immoral seamstress of rhythm and soul made a triumphant return to her very own Silverlake 'hood. Accompanied by a three-piece band of seasoned session players with rocking chops (Jon Nichols on lead guitar, Tom Lilly on bass and Todd Wolf on drums), Beth bounced and belted through a breathtaking two-hour set while feeding her faithful with an intimate give-and-take that had every soul in the room in the palm of her ivory-twinkling hand.
Opening the set alone with her guitarist, her Joplin-esque pipes set the tone for the evening. A few songs in, she took her seat at the keyboard and gently opened with her most familiar hit, "Leave the Light On," seducing the crowd into a state of melodic bliss before slamming full-band all electric for the decisive verses. "I'm not that sad but I'm sad enough!" she wailed and the room felt like it was rising. It became apparent here that we were not just watching a show but rather bearing witness to a fusion of musical spirituality and personal triumph. You could almost feel the ethereal vibrations of her translucent voice resonate deep into your blood stream as she sung the autobiographic song depicting her struggle and beautiful resurgence from hardship. Beth inspires through her music and her survival -- she's overcome drug addiction and Hepatitis C.
Before launching into her standard, "L.A. Song," that became popular after the release of her sophomore album Screamin' for My Super in 1999, Beth clarified how the personal ballad embodies both the city's intoxicating nature and at the same time its condemnation towards self-determination. For Beth, Los Angeles has proven to represent both heaven and hell. At the peak of her career, at the height of fame and fortune, she began to deteriorate and embark on a journey into the darkest depths of living hell. She blamed herself. She blamed her hometown. She blamed the world. She saw a place of beautifully mystifying dreams and pervasively compulsive nightmares and although she once lost herself in the city of angels, today, she's resurrected and healed in its blinding lights, to find herself more alive and full of hope than ever.
"Man I gotta get out of this town /Yeah, now I gotta get back on that train," she sang. "Man I gotta get out of this town/I'm outta my pain /So I'm goin' back to L.A". As she confronted the closing chorus, she emoted a banshee howl that could probably be heard in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium. In the midst of an anecdote lauding one of her musical heroines, Rickie Lee Jones as a "genius," someone yelled, "You're a genius, Beth Hart!" eliciting a humble, "Why thank you so much."
As the crowd settled, Beth proceeded to introduce two tracks off her forthcoming independent LP due out in September. One of them, "Sister Heroine," is about her sister Sharon who passed away 14 years ago. The first notes were thunderous, and then the song paused as if to take a breath before floating into a pleasantly enchanting groove. Looking around it seemed less like a concert and more like a tribal gathering of "Beth-heads," full of reverie. These fans "get" her; to them, she is a force of life, love and hope. It is clear that she has seen death but instead chose to live, and not live quietly but rather, thunderously with the force of a thousand screaming musical prophets breaching the bounds of both lyric and melody. It's as if the Gods themselves wielded her vocal cords out of the transitory clouds of harmonious heaven and then coded with them some mysteriously translucent spots of hell.
All the way through, the mood in the dimly lit club was nothing short of ecstatic. Through songs like "Sick", a satirical slight dedicated to President George W. Bush; to a thunderous ten-minute hard rock jam stocked with drum solos and Zeppelin riffs, Beth came to the Echoplex not to take prisoners but to free slaves. Her legendary pipes gave the room a seismic kick in the ass. Nailing two of her most notable numbers, "Learning to Live" and "Good as it Gets," she exuded strength, sensitivity, sexuality, and beauty driven from one note to another with extensive accuracy and soul defining exhilaration.
"We'll be back here soon," her husband and number one roadie, Scott Guetzkow, said after the triumphant set. "It's less than a mile from the house. Why bother going all the way up to the Sunset Strip when we've got a great room in our own backyard?"
Once again, Beth Hart has proved herself a poetic survivor full of philosophical inquiry, soul, and self-expression. She's a seeker of freedom and fundamental truth through music. She's an artist and she's a warrior. And in a city where sometimes the sun shines so hot it burns, it's all about soulshine.