By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Live Review: Beth Hart with John Oates & Guthrie Trapp – Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg, Florida – April 27, 2022
Rock At Night has reviewed and written about Grammy-nominated blues artist Beth Hart for years. We interviewed her at the Baloise Session in Switzerland and reviewed her gigs in UK. The word on the street was: she is phenomenal live. I truly wanted to experience this for myself and had the opportunity to review and photograph her at the Eventim-Apollo in Hammersmith, London in February 2020. It was after experiencing her raw and vulnerable performance I too became a disciple at the altar of Beth Hart. Her performance was moving beyond words.
Fast forward to November 2021, I was planning to review her show at the London Palladium—but her tour was cut short. Rats. Feeling disappointed and deprived, I was thrilled to see she would be performing in North America in Spring—and making an appearance in St. Petersburg, Florida. Truly the blues god heard my silent prayers because on April 27th, the Venus of the Blues arrived.
The Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Florida bustled with a flurry of folks, as almost every seat was filled, including box seats and balconies. Starting at 7:40 p.m., the audience was treated to an intimate set of blues songs performed by John Oates (yeah, that John Oates) and guitarist Guthrie Trapp. While seated on wooden stools with acoustic guitar accompaniment, Oates performed as a solo artist and not as the “other half” of the duo Hall and Oates. In fact, we were treated to not only his rich, nuanced bluesy voice and but also a glimpse of his personality has he relayed backstories to songs. The first part of the set consisted of traditional blues before entering ‘Hall and Oates’ territory with acoustic versions of “She’s Gone” and “Out of Touch”. By this point the audience was singing along, toe tapping, and head nodding in approval. Special kudos goes to Guthrie Trapp whose guitar virtuosity fleshed out the duo’s sound. Oates ended the set with “It’s a Wonderful World” and a set that was the perfect introduction to an evening of blues.
After an intermission, the audience gathered back into the theater and waited for Beth Hart to appear on stage. Her voice was audible but the stage remained darkened. Suddenly, a spotlight shone at the rear of the theater as the diva made her way down the aisle, hugging people along the way, while singing “You Belong to Me”. She then stepped on stage, looking extremely fit in her black jeggings, crop top, and toned arms. Unlike most people that gorged during COVID down time, Ms. Hart at 50 looked like a sultry panther as she glided across the stage, belting out songs like “Rhymes” and “Delicious Surprise” with raw, unabashed emotion and soul. She tossed her hair, squatted in front of the drums, and traded glances with longtime drummer Bill Ransom and guitarist Jon Nichols. She oozed sex appeal and raw energy. Yes, the blues rock goddess had arrived.
I couldn’t help but notice she was carrying a small wooden stick in the palm of her hand. Why? I discovered she carries it at concerts in place of a cigarette since she quit smoking. That is dedication.
Still in rock mode, she broke into “No Quarter” before segueing to a very poignant and emotionally charged version of “Babe, I’m Gonna’ Leave You.” One could feel her pleading as she cried “baby, baby, baby.” If you have not listened to her recent album A Tribute to Led Zeppelin, put it on your playlist.
During the evening, Hart took her shoes off and got comfy on edge of the stage. She made the audience feel like friends gathered in a parlor. One could feel her vulnerability as she discussed her past experience with drugs, eating disorders, and abusive men (“a guy beat the shit out of me when I was 14”). She praised her longtime husband/manager Scott Guetzkow who supported her through personal ups and downs.
A very accomplished pianist, Hart accompanied the band while singing blues-rock songs and ballads. Before performing “Bang Bang Boom Boom”, she explained her admiration of the main character in the film Natural Born Killers saying, “I so wanted to be her. Thank God I took my meds.”
Hart paid homage to guitarists with “Rub Me For Luck”, which truly showed off her phenomenal voice. She is one of few people that sounds better “live” than in recorded music, which seems to bury the nuances and depth of her vocal range. She described while at a low point in her life she prayed saying, “God, I’m going to kill myself today”. She began attending a Korean church on Sundays (where no English was spoken) and befriended a minister who taught her the meaning of gratitude. Heartbroken the minister was leaving for another congregation in Hawaii, Hart composed “War In My Mind.”
She explained the special relationship with her sister Sharon who passed away, before singing “Sister Heroine.” A special moment was when her husband Scott came out to kiss her after singing “Hero.”
The touching stories of overcoming obstacles and glimpse into her personal life created almost a cathartic atmosphere for both Hart and the listener. I was feeling verklempt during most of the ballads like “Take It Easy On Me” and “Without Words in the Way”, which featured Tom Lily on the standup bass.
The mood became festive as the band lined up at the front of the stage to perform “Sugar Shack” and “Baby Shot Me Down, which had almost a Caribbean feel. For the encore, after much cheers and clapping, Hart sang the beloved Etta James song “I’d Rather Go Blind.”
My friend Nancy said as we walked to the car, “Well, that was intense.” While driving home I couldn’t help put Beth Hart’s music on the car radio so I could revel in the evening. I truly cannot think of a contemporary singer/songwriter today who evokes both the vulnerability and authenticity in songwriting as well as performance as she does. Her concerts are truly a spiritual experience.
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