Beth Orton at the 9:30 Club

English singer/songwriter Beth Orton performs at the 9:30 Club in DC. Photo: Beth Orton

WASHINGTON, August 27, 2013 – Beth Orton has a great sense of humor. This might not be the first thing that might have occurred to you during her recent appearance at the 9:30 Club. But it’s a key element of her persona that tells you a great deal about her show and the conditions under which she performed.

If this sounds as if she were undergoing an ordeal, it was nothing of the sort. A singer/songwriter from England who’s been active since 1993,  and is now on a North American tour, Orton is certainly that some nights can turn out like her recent performance here. The show was somewhat lightly attended, but things like this will happen over a long, diverse, but successful career like hers.

And it’s moments like this one where her sense of humor and, to a certain extent, her genuine openness come into play. There are some artists who, when faced with a similar situation, might react badly to the numbers. Others might simply ignore it, which isn’t a bad way to handle such things. To Beth Orton’s credit though, she met the scenario head on, acknowledging it a few times with light and well-timed banter and jokes.

Of course, the turnout here was unfortunate because Beth Orton puts on a particularly good show. It’s a simple and stripped down set for the most part, which focuses all attention on her art.  She actually has a reputation for expanding the normal range of the singer/songwriter turf, venturing out into “folktronica” as well as trip hop, aside from a few songs she sings while performing on the piano that serve as virtual interludes in her mostly acoustic set.

With the attention exclusively on her, it is easy notice the depth of meaning in each of Beth Orton’s songs. Her lyrics are touching and a bit melancholy as she winds through each thoughtful narrative. She avoids simplistic philosophizing, choosing instead to deal more explicitly with personal details of her life.

Her lyrics in turn are enhanced by the flexible qualities of her voice, which is the real heart of all of her songs. Certain singers can change the dimensions of their sets by varying their vocal output, and can lend gravitas to even the lightest songs they sing. Orton does exactly that during her set. Her voice is soft and soulful, yet authoritative and purposeful. She’s able to sustain each note as she chooses, giving it a haunting and often regretful feel.

SEE RELATED: The Melvins perform at the 9:30 Club

It’s Beth Orton’s very presence on stage that ties everything together in the end.  She’s unwavering as she moves through her set, possessing a mature sense about where she is as an artist and where she’s come from. She has no illusions about who she is as an artist and a professional, and everyone in attendance at the 9:30 Club benefitted from this rare glimpse into a fully formed soul.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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