Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man

Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man

with Sparklehorse

Somerset House, London, England • July 12, 2003

Somerset House doesn’t normally host gigs, but it’s made the exception for a brief summer series of low-key, electronically-tinged nights. After Thursday and Friday’s sold-out Royksopp concerts, Beth Gibbons had a fair amount of hype to live up to — ripples of “The best gig series in the UK this year!” were felt throughout London music circles, setting the stage for a show that would either sparkle or simply fail to match the spectacle of its Somerset summer peers.

This is Beth Gibbons, though — one of the most striking singers of the past two decades, owner of THAT voice (you know, the one that’s been mimicked thousands of times since she first unleashed it on the world?), part of the seminal group Portishead, and writer of last year’s acclaimed almost-solo release Out of Season (she pieced it together with the help of Rustin Man, a.k.a Talk Talk’s Paul Webb). She would have needed to try pretty damn hard not to impress.

Despite Sparklehorse’s utterly mediocre opening set (it would be better, one suspects, to consider structure a little more in order to pull off a support slot that doesn’t alienate the audience or bore them shitless or — in this case — both), Gibbons did anything but disappoint. As the sun finally faded from the stunning open courtyard that forms the centerpiece of Somerset House, she took to stage, mesmerizing — there’s no other word for the effect that she had — the crowd and singing with even more poignancy and power than on her studio recordings.

Once or twice, she apologized, gorgeously humble, for not talking; for being such a crappy ‘entertainer’; for being paranoid. There was no need, though — as she took to stage for an encore, trademark cigarette in hand, it was obvious that she had wooed the crowd completely, and they in return had wooed her.

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