Beth Orton

Friday, February 17, 2006
4:37 PM

UEA LCR, Norwich

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UEA LCR, Norwich

Beth Orton comes on stage dressed entirely in white, impossibly tall, blonde and looking more than a bit like an angel. Her voice is at least half way there too.

She first made waves by combining folk and electonica in a way that perfectly captured the 1990s zeitgeist. Ten years on, her genre crossing no longer seems so radical, but that didn't stop the fans having the time of their lives last night.

Most people who know a bit about music will say “Beth Orton? I thought she had disappeared. She did those great items Trailer Park and Central Reservation. Then what happened after that?”

Another album is the answer, which was pleasant enough but failed to set anyone's world on fire. Then that career death knell of her Greatest Hits. Now she seems to be enjoying a mini-renaissance, with favourable, if not passionate, reviews for her new album, Comfort of Strangers, and good crowds at mid-sized venues like the UEA.

As always with Beth, the point is her voice, which has some of the purity and soul of Joni Mitchell. It came across to best effect on Stolen Car, a simple heart-breaking melody that was one of the best tracks from Central Reservation.

And it was great to be reminded of Beth's talents as a songwriter. She Cries Your Name was a finely drawn portrait of loneliness, while they don't come more melancholy than Safe In Your Arms.

The evening is the auditory equivalent of broken glass; painful in places, beautiful in places, and ultimately fragile.

Surprisingly for one whose songs are so bleak, Beth was in a jovial mood, cracking jokes. “What's ET short for?” she quipped. “He has got little legs.”

Warm-up act Clayhill got the evening off to a good start, their sweet, soulful songs making equally good use of the double bass and an even more unusual instrument, scissors.

Former Sunhouse front man Gavin Clarke proved that feelings are not just for the ladies.

It was Beth's songs from Trailer Park that met the warmest reception, generating ecstatic applause.

But even if everyone loves the golden oldies, last night she showed she has plenty of life left in her yet.

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