Beth Gibbons review – otherworldly presence transcends light and dark

Estimated read time 2 min read

Beth Gibbons is visible only as a silhouette, backlit against blood red lighting. Flanked on three sides by her musicians, she stands several feet away and isolated at centre stage as an expectant hush gives way to the stark guitars, brooding drums and low clarinet of Tell Me Who You Are Today. For the rest of the show, while several members of her band are spotlit, Gibbons remains almost entirely in the shadows, her face only visible in the briefest of flashes.

The same way one’s sense of hearing is said to sharpen in the dark, this intensifies the power of Gibbons’ singing, which comes in staggering waves. Her band are polished and dynamic as they weave their way through each of the songs on new album Lives Outgrown. Beyond the Sun flitters anxiously between brooding drums and explosions of noise. Rewind contains a thunderous power that was only hinted at on record, guitars squalling and fraying at the seams.

The set contains light as well as darkness; it’s worth remembering that while Lives Outgrown is a record that grapples with death, ageing and decay, it also concerns the bravery and hope that emerges in response. The flute-driven Whispering Love basks in a warm pastoral beauty. The shimmering chorus of Floating On a Moment is nothing short of transcendent. The swooning Mysteries, one of two tracks from Out of Season (her 2002 collaboration with Rustin Man) is quiet, tender, and the set’s highlight.

Beth Gibbons and band.View image in fullscreen

The intensity rarely drops. The emotional space she channels that intensity into, however, is forever shifting. Remaining constant and still amid the tumult is Gibbons herself, who leans forward to cling the microphone with both hands, rarely moving beyond a dropping of the head or the occasional glance behind her at the band. As a simmering encore of Roads, the only Portishead song in the set, makes clear, her voice has changed remarkably little in 30 years – at times her presence is almost otherworldly.

That is, until the set ends. House lights are raised, and the suddenly visible Gibbons appears overcome by a standing ovation. Beaming, she wishes a happy birthday to her violinist’s daughter who is in the audience, bows with her band, and high fives several outstretched hands from the crowd. For all her enigma, it’s Gibbons’ generous humanity that shines through most of all.


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