Beth Orton, Vicar Street, Dublin, 28th October 2002
"We burn our boats each New Year
Silently watching the flames and the old life disappear."
- Beth Orton, "Daybreaker"
Beth Orton has two Mercury Music Prize nominations to her name and a sense of humour. On record sleeve photographs, she occasionally stares into the distance or down at the ground, forlornly in Poignant-with-a-capital-P singer-songwriter style. To the Vicar Street audience she makes jokes about sex in Heathrow toilets. She's wearing a black shirt and skirt, a polka dot tie and a guitar with a sparkly strap. She drinks lots of water and apologises for her lack of rock debauchery.
"Why should I know better by now when I'm old enough not to?" she sings on 'Stolen car', among the finest of all singles released in the year 1999. But, sadly, it's not 1999 anymore: three years on, Beth has a new album to promote, "Daybreaker", that's patchier than it is three-dimensional. A shame, then, that we have to sit through the record in its entirety.
Its strongest songs - 'Paris train' and the title track - are the first to be showcased. Some more judicious editing later - ditching the charmlessly jaunty 'Anywhere' and 'Carmella' or even the downbeat 'Thinking about tomorrow', for example - might have left the audience with more energy for the seemingly endless encore/second act. Instead, we have wrapped up in coats and scarves, waiting for Beth to wrap it up too.
This is an even greater shame, as some of the best has been naturally saved for the second half. No space in the set for her two best songs about death and love - 'Best bit' and 'Stars all seem to weep' - but the aforementioned 'Stolen car', 'Feel to believe' and career-launcher 'She cries your name', with its haunting, affecting opening strings, are all included. She fucks her timing up a bit on that one, but it's funny.
Orton is accompanied by six musicians in total - guitar, keyboards, drums, double bass, cello and violin - though it's when she's finally left alone with just her guitar that her wide-ranging intonations assume the most power. 'Blood Red River', in particular, is one of the most devastating of Orton's songs to listen to on record and her voice wobbles appropriately over the hurt words without ever losing its deep quality: "Why must people always want what they can't have?/Why must people always take but forget to ask?"
Lots of questions, not many answers. Finally, she closes on her cover of the Ronettes' 'I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine' and everybody goes home.