Another year, another Vivid drawing to a close. As always, it’s been a series of world-class performances from an array of incredibly diverse artists – which makes it a no-brainer, then, for the final one to come from perhaps the most diverse and chameleonic of the lot.
Across nearly a quarter-century, Beth Orton has weaved in and out of folk, electronica, indie, pop and rock – not only staying relatively consistent, but making every creative leap from one musical environment to another work perfectly to suit her.
The last few times Orton has visited Australia, it’s been under a solo acoustic guise, performing primarily on acoustic guitar and piano. While that’s a perfectly serene and wonderful way to experience Orton’s music – particularly in the context of the recital halls and churches she’s played in the past – it’s great to see her in a trio tonight, making full use of the impeccable sound one has at their disposal within the surrounds of the Concert Hall.
Even better are the duo accompanying her: Grey McMurray moves masterfully between guitar and bass, while partner Alex Thomas weaves in both acoustic and electric drums. The former allows for grand builds of sound through ‘Petals’ and the slide-favouring ‘Stolen Car’, while the latter rolls through the upbeat ‘Shopping Trolley’ and subtly swishes brushes around on the understated ‘Call Me The Breeze’.
The fact all of these songs are so stylistically different, yet are brought together under the banner of the same artist, is a reflection on Orton herself – who, it should be noted, is in fine form throughout. Although her nerves shine through in her between-song banter – she teases that all of the shouted-out song requests are “shit ideas” at one point – she delivers where it matters most: her creaking, vulnerable voice; emoting through her simultaneously autobiographical and secretive lyricism.
‘She Cries Your Name’ is as devastating as the first time you heard it all those years ago; ‘Falling’ serves as a timely reminder of her later output’s finest moments. No matter what direction the show takes, it’s inherently compelling and masterfully arranged. Orton remains ever the intriguing figure – wholly intimate and yet never quite giving everything away.
As the lights go out on Vivid 2017, Orton ensures that we walk out of the Opera House for the final time this season unafraid of the dark.
Beth Orton played the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday June 13. Photo by Daniel Boud