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Live Review: Beth Gibbons – 9th June 2024 – Barbican Centre, London, UK

4 min read
We were witness to an incredible performance by Portishead icon @realbethgibbons last night as she brought songs from new LP Lives Outgrown to the @BarbicanCentre stage. Our full review.... @Dominorecordco

Fresh from the release of her debut solo album, Lives Outgrown – a remarkable collection of melancholic gems touching on topics from motherhood and menopause to death and anxiety – Portishead frontwoman Beth Gibbons is back on the road after a long bout away from the stage and 30 years after her emergence as one of the most gifted songwriters and vocalists to rise through British popular music.

Having completed a much-talked about run of shows throughout Europe, Gibbons touched down in the capital last night with an exquisite performance at the Barbican Centre before taking the show up to Manchester tonight and a final date tomorrow in Edinburgh.

As the venue quickly flooded at a little shy of 8.30pm, following the announcement that the shows was about to begin, we found our way to our comfy allocation in the Circle seating area of the Barbican; fascinated by the collection of people in attendance. This show was a far cry from the beer slinging, mosh-pit frenzy of the last show we went to (Liam Gallagher at the O2) but perfect for a warm Sunday evening – posh cliques, sweet elders and sweater wearing twenty-somethings merging and mingling to share their mutual adoration for tonight’s iconic headliner.

The nights set is understandably dominated by songs from her new collection with a couple of early non-Portishead head numbers. Mysteries and Tom the Model – songs from Gibbons 2002 collaborative record with Rustin Man – were placed strategically within the set to split up the newness of the night while a single nod to Portishead was given via Roads, from 1994’s Dummy; Gibbons high-placed voice achingly pleading “How can it feel this wrong?” and receiving a roaring applause from the audience as its closing piano notes reverberated through the performance space.

Gibbons remains a mystery as she delivers every song from the record in spectacularly intricate, original form, distinctively hunched over toward her mic in near darkness for the entirety of the show while her percussionist provides a captivating display to her left, performing a plethora of otherworldly instruments as if like some mythical Jim Henson creature in silhouette. It’s really quite unlike anything I have ever witnessed in all my concert-going years. His seasoning of special effects further propels performances of Whispering Love, Floating On a Moment and For Sale into atmospheric, goosebump-inducing beauties. Her fellow bands mates were positioned in the sides and to the rear of the centre staged headliner who occasionally drank what looked like tea above a rising stream of air that was drifting up from a humidifier below and creating even more of an angelic atmosphere amongst the dim lighting.

Her stage presence is ethereal, magical and intimate – there was little in the way of audience interaction throughout 80 minute set. No jokes, no anecdotes, no filler. They aren’t required here at the sophisticated Barbican Centre. Instead, Gibbons let her craft control proceedings as she pulls her fans into a world filled with swaying storytelling, told with pristine and precise vocal prowess. Much like other female singer/songwriters or her time – Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and the likes – Gibbons has built a very dedicated fanbase – many of whom were in attendance last night and were heard shouting “I love you’s” to the singer at silenced moments between songs.

As the lights come on for her to bid farewell, the whole audience leaps to their feet to applause the seemingly shy star. She mutters several sentences – a ‘Happy Birthday’ to a friend in the audience was the only recognisable words we could catch – but visibly humbled and taken aback by the reception as she and her incredibly talented bandmates, once placed on the sides or to the rear of the singer as they individually mastered their instrumental craft at moments during the show, left the stage with some lucky fans getting a departing handshake from the petite Portishead icon.

It was a truly astounding Barbican performance from one of the most reclusive yet phenomenally talented vocalists and songwriters of the last 50 years. I’m not a spiritual person at all but last night’s show was the closest I have come to a experiencing a spiritual moment.

Set list:
Tell Me Who You Are Today
Burden of Life
Floating on a Moment
For Sale – biggest applause. Seated ovation
Mysteries (Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man cover)
Lost Changes
Tom the Model (Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man cover)
Beyond the Sun
Whispering Love

Roads (Portishead song)
Reaching Out

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