Concert Critic: Beth Hart at the Wilbur Theater
By Jason M. Rubin
Blues singer Beth Hart wields the hammer of the gods with easy finesse but also deep emotion.
Beth Hart, the powerhouse blues singer who is both a riveting performer of other people’s songs and a fearless and honest singer-songwriter, wrapped up the first leg of her Thankful 2022 tour with two successful nights at the Wilbur Theater in Boston. on March 9 and 10. This writer grabbed the second night, which was probably for the best because the show was longer and Hart and his band seemed determined to go out with a bang early on.
This debut included a solo version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” – which would not have been played at any other show on the tour to date, and no doubt a statement about the war in Ukraine – with Hart playing of the piano and delivering a moving voice. Despite the fact that she rocked hard at many points during the show, she actually spent almost half the night solo on the piano or duet with her bassist and guitarist, which this writer thinks it was a good thing too. There could have been more rocking. Yet because so many of his songs deal with his story of mental illness and addiction, even when rendered solo and acoustically, they have breathtaking emotional depth.
Although often compared to Janis Joplin, Hart also encompasses the spirit and substance of other brilliant artists, such as Amy Winehouse, Lou Reed and perhaps even Ronnie James Dio. There is an air of danger in his performances. Dressed in skin-tight black leather pants and a sparkly black halter top, with black gloves on her hands, Hart prowled the stage like a panther, stalking among her musicians or crouching on the edge of the stage, ready to pounce on the audience. UFC fighter Ronda Rousey was almost expected to take the stage and challenge her to a fight. This writer would have put his money on Hart.
Part of that sense of danger, of course, comes from knowing you’re looking at a Survivor – one who could possibly have a downturn at any moment. At various points during the concert, Hart spoke about his father’s gambling addiction and how he left it at a young age, his sister’s death from AIDS, and his own struggles with bipolar disorder. In her song, “Leave The Light On”, she sang, “Seventeen and I’m all messed up inside / I cut myself just to feel alive.” In “War In My Mind,” she sang, “There’s a war in my mind/Seek and you’ll find/It screams all the time. Hart’s Songs Contain Most Brutally Revealing Lyrics Since Joni Mitchell’s Blue.
And yet, during the show, the lean and muscular 50-year-old also radiated strong positivity. She hugged her classmates after certain songs. She not only introduced them – Jon Nichols on guitar, Tom Lilly on bass and Bill Ransom on drums – but also thanked them during the performance. Hart also expressed his genuine gratitude to the audience; one would imagine that the strength it takes for her to take the stage – fighting her demons for our entertainment – comes in large part from the support she receives from an adoring crowd. That was certainly the case on the March 10 broadcast, where each of his confessions was met with sympathetic applause.
Although the current tour is named after a song from his 2019 album, The war in my headand she performed seven of her 12 songs in concert, Hart’s latest album, released last month, is Tribute to Led Zeppelin. From this recording, she only made four songs – “Dancing Days”, “When The Levee Breaks”, “No Quarter” and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” – and these, she did them all. in a row, starting right after Sam Cooke’s opening tune. Maybe on the next leg of the tour, Hart will devote more time to the tracks from the new version. Her performances took no quarter – they were uniformly exciting and intense. Hart wields the hammer of the gods with easy finesse but also deep emotion. In interviews about the new album, she has spoken of the cathartic qualities of Zep’s music, which provides an outlet for her anger. Other artists Hart covered in Boston were Al Green (the funky “Rhymes”), Tom Waits (the irreverent “Chocolate Jesus”) and Etta James (the searing “I’d Rather Go Blind”).
Hart is no stranger to Boston or the Wilbur, so hopefully she’ll be back soon. As stated in The Rolling Stones’ “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”, we want our favorite artists to bleed for us, to go to the uncomfortable edges of the experience – whether it’s with drugs, sex, gender identity or antisocial behavior – and report back to us what they learned. Beth Hart accepted this challenge and through hard work, deep faith and an almost supernatural vocal gift emerged strong in body and spirit. It’s good for her, and good for her audience.
Opening for Hart on this leg of the tour was Quinn Sullivan, a 22-year-old guitarist and songwriter from Massachusetts whose prodigious talent saw him play with Buddy Guy and Carlos Santana, and perform three times. in Montreux. Jazz Festival and Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival. This writer had never heard of him until this show, but emerged with a Jon-Landau-discovering-Bruce-Springsteen-like admiration. Not only for his guitar playing, but also for his original songs – which show a mature gift for melody – and his expressive voice. Joined by bandmate Chris Bloniarz on mandolin and piano, “Mighty Quinn” Sullivan (this author said it first and hopes it spreads) played about half a dozen songs, including a cover of “Why Does Love Got To” by Derek and the Dominoes. Be so sad,” and earned an enthusiastic standing ovation at the end of his first set. With a new album (his fourth) titled Awakehe’s a guy to watch.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for more than 35 years, the last 20 as a senior creative associate at Libretto Inc., a Boston-based strategic communications agency where he won awards for his writing. He wrote for artistic fuse since 2012. Jason’s first novel, The grave and the gaybased on a 17th century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. His current book, Ancient Tales Newly Toldreleased in March 2019, includes an updated version of his first novel as well as a new work of historical fiction, King of Kings, about King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Jason is a member of the New England Indie Authors Collective and holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.