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Beth Hart at the Historic Wuppertal Statehouse

Phillip Woolever By

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Beth Hart Band
Historic Statehouse
Wuppertal, Germany
May 24, 2017

It is interesting how sometimes, when performed properly, the most tragic, heartbroken blues can be thoroughly inspiring. Beth Hart verified the truth in that improbable contradiction many times during a superb show.

Hart is known for soaring vocals and deeply personal, reflective songwriting. Each of those gifts was on display as the show began with "Close to My Fire" and Hart strolled down the ornate isles toward the stage.

The vocal mix needed adjustment but that didn't matter to spellbound devotees who trailed her like shadows or climbed chairs for a phone video. Hart had the assembly in the palm of her hand after just three crooning steps. By the time she made it onstage a few minutes later her voice sounded near perfection and her merchandise stand was guaranteed brisk business.

Many fans abandoned their seats to remain up front and dance or sway during the second song, "Something's got a Hold on Me." Guitarist Jon Nichols switched from his more employed Fender to a Les Paul and Hart took to the keyboard for a rousing take on "Bottle of Jesus." More dancers stood up to testify like holy rollers. Rock 'n rollers that is.

Bassist Bob Marinelli and drummer Bill Ransom maintained booming rhythms throughout the night.

Hart hit the crowd's romantic buttons on "Like Coca Cola" and added a bit of traditional piano jazz with "Jazz Man.""Baddest Blues," from her collaboration with Joe Bonamassa was a crowd favorite."Monkey Back" featured some of Hart's strongest vocals, inspiring a comparison to Janis Joplin that was not unfavorable. With lyrics like "The drugs ain't workin' they're just jacking me off again" Hart wears her grit on her sleeve.

Fevered fans howled back during "Caught Out in the Rain." One floating woman cackled on the sidelines as if she'd been drenched in something good. Hart nodded to her in connection and they both seemed to laugh at some private, cosmic joke.

A pair of acoustic gems featuring Nichols marked further high points on "Ain't No Way" and especially "Is That Too Much to Ask?" with Hart on guitar.

Hart showed a softer side during anecdotal ballads like "My California," "Better than Home" and "Mama this One's for You."

The audience appeared deeply touched when Hart became tearful between songs. "I hate it when I start crying, I'm such an asshole," said Hart softly. Not unless it's all part of a marketing act, babe.

"Love is a Lie" was the strongest cut from Fire on the Floor (Mascot, 2017) and led the way to a powerful finish. The raucous "Trouble," with a "Monkey Back" reprise, closed the show.

The encore was as much part of the routine as most of them are these days, but that doesn't mean Hart or her audience were insincere. When the excellent axe man Gary Hoey, tonight's opener, joined in it was a spectacular jam.

"For My Friends" featured great runs as he and Nichols traded wicked bluesrock riffs. Hart's deep, belting vocals kept the more subdued "I'd Rather Go Blind" from becoming anti-climactic.

Earlier, Hoey's bombastic trio served up an excellent appetizer with songs like "Who's Your Daddy" from Dust and Bones (Provogue, 2016), and provided further, rollicking reasons why the blues are so popular in Germany.

Hoey finished his set with a pair of sterling dedications. First came a bittersweet instrumental take on "Amazing Grace," for victims of the Manchester concert bombing. "Evil never wins," said Hoey, and it's too bad that statement isn't always accurate. Still, the thought counts.

Hoey concluded a with a dynamic "Steam Roller" dedicated to Johnny Winter and ripped up, Texas style, some steel guitar in a manner that would have made Winter proud. Many stood in appreciation after Hoey's 50- minute set. Everybody should have.

Hart had the crowd on their feet much of the night. Anyone who didn't understand why her fans are so devoted certainly could after more than two hours of high-powered contact. She may not be ready to conquer global arenas, but as of 2017 there are few singer-songwriters who can match her in a concert hall.

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