Last night, the golden-voiced Beth Orton graced the stage at Chicago's Vic Theatre. The temperature was a comfortable high 60s outside (finally), upper 70s inside, and, after the opening notes of "Paris Train," 1000 degrees on stage. This was my first introduction to Ms. Orton in a live setting and I was surprised at both the enthusiasm of the crowd and the true beauty of her voice. I mean, I know she sounds amazing on her albums, but Beth was on fire.
A fairly large band accompanied Orton, including a stand up bass, second guitar, keyboards, drums, cello, and violin. The eclectic cast of characters playing those instruments were quite amusing to look at as well. The bass player looked like Flea circa 1990 and, judging by his dance moves and bright red shirt with flames on it, was probably a leftover of a once mildly popular ska band. The drummer looked exactly like Pete Yorn from my vantage point. Seriously, exactly like him. Shivvy Shiv would have been backstage in seconds for a closer look. And the lead guitarist looked like this burnout kid who got busted for selling weed during gym class back in high school. I couldn't really see the rest of the peeps, as the place was packed and, due to the fact that I arrived only moments before the show started, I had a shitty spot.
Shitty spots and goofy looking band aside, the show was enjoyable. Orton breezed through a number of songs from her latest effort, Daybreaker, as well as select tracks from 1996's Trailer Park, and 1999's Central Reservation. Orton even treated the crowd to two jokes she had recently learned. The first was, "A chicken and an egg have just finished having sex. The chicken sits back in bed, lights up a cigarette, and starts smoking contentedly. Then the egg says, 'Well, I guess that answers that question.'" I didn't get the second one, and I think everyone who laughed was being nice, so I'll spare you. Before calling it a night, Orton and company masterfully performed "Someone's Daughter" (Trailer Park), "Sweetest Decline" (Central Reservation), the title track from Daybreaker and "Stolen Car" (Central Reservation). One of my favorite songs of the evening was the slow, passionately performed "God Song" from Daybreaker. I only wish the amazing Ryan Adams, who sings background vocals on the album version would have been there. Orton ended her set with an oldie but goodie, "Pass In Time," but was rushed back on stage for a encore by her die-hard fans who just hadn't gotten their fill.
This is when the fun really started. Orton came out with only the lead guitarist to accompany her for a stripped down version of "Concrete Sky." Then the cello player joined the pair for a beautiful version of "This One's Gonna Bruise." She sounded like an angel. The rest of the band then came out for two more songs, "She Cries Your Name" from Trailer Park, and "Dolphins" from the Best Bet EP. The house lights went up, people started to filter out, then... wait, the house lights dimmed, and Orton returned to the stage with band in tow for a kick ass, up beat, tripped out rendition of "Best Bit" from the previously mentioned EP of the same name. All in all, it was a great time. There were a few technical difficulties and some band fuck ups, but not enough to overshadow the undeniably cute Beth Orton and her amazing vocal artistry.