Review by Darren Gawle
Photography by Rodney Gitzel
I'll cut to the details: the upstairs pool table area is closed off now (having sprouted walls to serve as Schmooze Central), there are now (count 'em) five bars, one of which serves strawberry-vodka slushies, and the decor is ...well, trying to be trendy. And yes, the stage (a new one) is still where it always was. [Rodney: squint, ignore the DJ, and you'll almost think you're at the Pump...]
Anyway, the bands. I can't recall how long the Ids have been around, but it's nice to see that the major-label hype machine took the time to invite a few locals along for the ride, tonight. Then again, I don't think that anyone from BMG is going to be too impressed that the Ids have crashed their party. The second song of their set begins with a greasy "AH GOT THE MONEY HON-AYYY!!!!!" and all of a sudden we have the sound of an East L.A. street gang rapping out of tune over the hits of the Archies on Novocain. Actually, the Ids are not a lot removed from local faves Zolty Cracker, sound-wise. Their performance exudes a fair amount of confidence, which seems to indicate that they know how many people are about to hate them, the cheeky buggers. The trio are a lot better than you'd think, but, even so, they could also be the best band that ever sucked.
What Beth Orton thinks of all this we'll never know. She doesn't seem to want to deviate from the usual "Oh thanks" and "This next one's called... ," etc., except to ask if we mind being referred to as 'Vannies.' Say what?
Orton: 'You're so polite. How about some heckling, Vannies?'
Heckler: 'ROCK ON!'
Orton: 'Thanks, honey!'
Orton is better known in North America for her continuing collaborations with the Chemical Brothers (the sublime "One Too Many Mornings" being the best example), but that's no indication of her own solo style. Her music would have fit rather snugly onto the Lilith Fair bill, as this is yet another female vocalist with a guitar and some folky songs. "She Cries Her Name," tonight's crowd-pleaser, has the influences of Carole King and Joni Mitchell written all over it, but Orton succeeds due to a sound that doesn't rely on aping Sarah McLachlan's idiosyncrasies, and a songwriting ability that is more fully developed than, say, Sara Craig's.
Lurking about in the shadows (this is Beth's show, let us not forget) are the six members of her backing band. This includes a percussion section who seem to have attended the Reni school of dressing for modern music, and a keyboard player who thankfully relies on vintage Hammond and Rhodes sound rather than Toni Braxton-esque "tasteful keyboard washes." But the big surprise here is, considering the size of the ensemble, how, er...better than usual the sound mix is. Visually, the performance isn't as endearing as the Ids', but one suspects that Suzanne Vega-lookalike Beth Orton isn't in the habit of using Courtney Love-style tantrums to hold a crowd's attention.
Certainly the song arrangements and Orton's vocal talent can hold their own for a while. "Touch Me with Your Love" (could she have thought up a more clichéd title?) is a tense affair, accented by an seventies-style arrangement so skillful it barely relies on seventies-style instrumentation for effect. However, virtually all the songs follow the same tempo and dynamic formula and, by the end of the show, her music is battling for attention with the conversations of Sonar's more bored patrons. Ironically, it's the A&R folks who are the biggest offenders -- and it's hard to get excited about new talent when even the people responsible for the hype can't at least act interested.
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Please read this first. Thanks.