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Beth Orton: KOKO, London – live review

Beth Orton’s KOKO performance is less of a gig and more of a celebration — of an artist, her determination, and the resulting masterpiece: new album Weather Alive.

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Beth Orton: KOKO, London – live review

Beth Orton
KOKO, London
9th October 2022

Beth Orton at KOKO is less of a gig and more of a celebration — of an artist, her determination, and the resulting masterpiece: new album Weather Alive.

About 45 minutes into her performance, Beth Orton asks: “Can we have the big ball?” KOKO’s massive rose gold mirror ball starts spinning, bathing the already magnificent venue in floating specks of red light. It’s yet another reminder — from the singer’s gold-sequined frock to the fairy lights decorating her keyboard — that this is less of a gig and more of a celebration. A celebration of an artist, her determination, and the resulting masterpiece.

Released just a couple of weeks ago, Orton’s eighth album is her finest to date. But its genesis wasn’t exactly smooth. After misdiagnosed chronic health issues were finally treated, Orton was faced with a disorienting sense of clarity. She could only really process her new reality through extended periods of solace, learning to play the piano she’d bought for £350 at Camden Market. The resulting songs — meditative, fragile, raw — were too dark for her record label; they ditched her (by phone). So she took out a loan and soldiered on alone. But not before being hit hard by the deaths of two close friends and collaborators, Andrew Weatherall and Hal Willner.

Beth Orton: KOKO, London – live review

Unsurprisingly then, the eight tracks that made it onto the self-produced Weather Alive are deeply personal. Lyrically, they deal with loss, the messiness of life, her sense of disembodiment, the struggle to make sense of it all. Vocally, they feature Orton at her most exposed, unafraid to let her voice crack, rasp, or even break. Musically they’re restrained, atmospheric, dreamlike, more about creating a mood than a hit single. These are demanding songs that hit hardest when you pay attention; let your mind wander and they could drift away.

So, by performing every single one alongside a few classics tonight, Orton’s taking a risk (that’s especially bold since she freely admits to thinking that nobody would ever actually get to hear them). It pays off. The refined KOKO crowd — as likely to be sipping prosecco as a pint — are fully engaged, listening intently as each song slowly, gently unfurls. There’s no annoying couple chatting through the whole show. There’s barely a raised mobile phone. There’s just loud, appreciative applause and the occasional (polite) shout of “We love you, Beth”.

Beth Orton: KOKO, London – live review

The love’s warranted. Orton gives all of herself in these deeply moving songs, revealing weaknesses, insecurities, and flaws to a roomful of strangers, before repeatedly lifting the mood with disarming, excitable conversation or obvious displays of admiration for her band. She clearly knows, and appreciates, that tonight’s daring performance wouldn’t succeed without them. Perfectly recreating the soundscapes that swirl around Orton’s keyboards, the five musicians play with impeccable restraint, aware that no instrument is more important than the other.

Ben Sloan’s drums swing on sublime opener Weather Alive (think later Talk Talk), or skitter across jazzier moments like Haunted Satellites, in a delicate dance with Ali Friend’s upright bass. Hinako Omori provides a synth bed, coloured by the textures of Stephen Patot’s guitar and Pete Wareham’s saxophone (which does get a bit of a David Lynch-style workout at the end of Arms Around A Memory).

Beth Orton: KOKO, London – live review

Of the new tracks, the real standouts are an ethereal Forever Young (which wouldn’t be out of place on a 4AD album circa 1995) and the skittish, restless Fractals, with both taking full advantage of the musicians on stage. So does a nimble She Cries Your Name, one of six tracks picked from earlier recordings, with bowed bass, slide guitar, smoky sax, synth blips, and a carefree beat accompanying Orton. It’s immediately followed by Central Reservation, the instrumentation completely stripped back to two acoustic guitars that put all the focus on Orton’s husky, fragile, deeply intimate vocal — even as the mirror ball spins above.

“…Possibly the most beloved night I’ve spent making music live,” Orton writes in an Instagram post the next morning. “A stunning venue with a fantastic audience packed to the rafters, I felt the love in that room and I am beyond grateful. For a record I never thought would be heard beyond my mind, to play live – to live in this consciousness – to live consciously – is a dream.”

You can find Beth Orton on her website as well as FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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Words by Nils van der Linden. You can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @nilsvdlinden and his website is here.

Photos by Simon Reed. His website Musical Pictures is here and you can visit his author profile for Louder Than War here. He tweets as @musicalpix.

Source: louderthanwar.com

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