Live, Music, Reviews

Beth Orton (Sydney Opera House)

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English singer-songwriter Beth Orton has returned to play the Sydney Opera House for the first time since 2005. She came to prominence via Triple J (and now Double J) favourite She Cries Your Name in 1996 – a melancholy, drifting and catchy folk-based tune, aided in its OCD quality by Orton letting her accent hang out.

Her music has been described as ‘folktronica’ or as ‘classical’ folk/rock with a sophisticated electronic rhythm section. Her popular early albums, Trailer Park and Central Reservation, could be categorised ‘folktronica’, but perhaps they are best described as contemporary folk albums – their contemporariness invariably brings with it electronic elements. That’s what the kids are doing these days. Orton embraced organic folk much more on her 2013 album Sugaring Season, but has bypassed the acoustic guitar almost entirely on her very beatsy new album Kidsticks. The tracks on Kidsticks move from the swirling and artsy Snow to groovy, danceable tunes such as Moon and 1973.

The early part of her show last night was dominated by tunes from Kidsticks. The completion of each song was met with enthusiastic applause but the Concert Hall audience sat still like they were watching Carmen. Of these early numbers, Wave with its groovy bass line and ’80s-ish synths and the funkier 1973 were highlights. She Cries Your Name was delivered as a reworked version – with a heavier and more urgent beat – somewhat in keeping with the style of the Kidsticks album.

Towards the midpoint of the evening Orton took the stage alone with an acoustic guitar. She asked the audience for requests but ignored all suggestions as they were ‘a bit shit’. There were some calls for Shopping Trolley from 2006’s Comfort of Strangers which Orton delivered magnificently when later re-joined by her band –  three multi-instrumentalists whose work is as tight as any famous prog rock trio.

If any of Orton’s recorded work could be said to be ‘overly produced’ then her tunes were given a new lease of live at the Opera House. Fan favourite Central Reservation worked better live than the recorded version but her set highlight was Snow (the opening song from Kidsticks) which was simultaneously agitated, groovy and sulky.

The evening ended with the acoustic guitar driven Call Me the Breeze and Pass in Time. The latter was powerfully and emotionally performed and the ‘posh’ Opera House audience (Orton’s term) rightfully gave her and her band a solid hand as they departed.

[box]Beth Orton performs in Canberra on June 16 and Brisbane on June 18. Image of Beth Orton at the Sydney Opera House last night by Daniel Boud[/box]

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