Beth Gibbons – Uber Eats Music Hall, Berlin, June 2

Magnificent live return from the reluctant Portishead star

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A storm is brewing in the skies as Beth Gibbons prepares to take the stage of Berlin’s most unappetisingly named venue. There’s a wary anticipation inside the building too. Her debut solo album Lives Outgrown only emerged two days ago, and its still-unfamiliar intimacy is foreboding. When muted strings fill the auditorium before the lights have even dimmed, it’s a nervous hush that falls over the crowd rather than wild applause. As overtures go, it’s hardly emphatic, and yet the moment the seven-piece band enters, the atmosphere changes, the air suddenly electric.


Wearing a casual black sweater and cargo pants, nervously rubbing her hands until forced to step to the microphone, Gibbons remains out of the spotlight as long as possible. But when she finally delivers “Tell Me Who You Are Today”’s defining opening lines – “If I could change the way I feel/ If I could make my body heal” – there’s no doubt middle-age has done nothing to soften her powers. No-one sings like her. Bewitching is an understatement.


Nonetheless, it’s equally clear that tonight is about far more than just ‘that voice’. Howard Jacobs’ woodwind immediately lends the song’s spooky folk a resonant depth lacking in the recorded version, while Emma Smith and Richard Jones on violins provide hints of the sweeping drama characterising Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. “Burden Of Life” is underpinned by a bustling rhythm established by Jacobs and Lives Outgrown’s co-producer James Ford, while Smith and Jones’ strings switch between unsettling stabs and sweeping romance, underlining ominous tension.

Tom Herbert’s syncopated bassline introduces “Floating On A Moment” with a brittle, tentative caution, but its mood is soon magically transformed thanks to celestial backing vocals and Jason Hazely’s harpsichord. “Mysteries”, from 2002’s Rustin Man collaboration Out Of Season, is welcomed like a dear friend, while “Oceans” is as dreamy as it is spellbinding, although a musical saw singing like a lost soul illustrates the shadows lurking in the background.

Likewise, “Whispering Love” can’t help hide a sense of trouble ahead, despite immaculately fleshed-out arrangements full of wide-eyed wonder and sensitive introspection; and “Rewind”’s initial, subtle spaghetti western flourishes are overwhelmed by pummelled drums, ultimately collapsing into a percussive mess. As for “Beyond The Sun”, its opening drones and acoustic guitar are diabolically translated into a sinister sacrificial singalong, with choral backing vocals like Viking warriors and brass summoning us into battle.


This mix of beauty and brutality is captivating, whether on “Tom The Model” (another Out Of Season number) or “For Sale”, Gibbons’ voice perfectly suited to the haunting melancholy of its descending melody. By the end, her delighted words to the audience are lost amid their roars. Her smile, though, is charismatic and unmissable.

The band return for a sublime take on Portishead’s “Roads”, the room reduced to stillness (and one woman to weeping). Finally, there’s a primal “Reaching Out”, Gibbons chanting as though raising the dead to a John Barry soundtrack. It’s a climactic manifestation of the show’s greatest revelation, that Gibbons’ art is all-encompassing. If there was a storm tonight, it took place indoors.

Tell Me Who You Are Today
Burden Of Life
Floating On A Moment
For Sale
Lost Changes
Tom The Model
Beyond the Sun
Whispering Love
Reaching Out


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