Live Music + Gig Reviews

Beth Gibbons @ Barbican, London

9 June 2024

Portishead legend showcases tracks from her new solo album Lives Outgrown in a visceral, cinematic and compelling show

Beth Gibbons (Photo: Netti Habel)

Beth Gibbons (Photo: Netti Habel)

Beth Gibbons may have kept a relatively low profile in recent years but the sense of anticipation around her show at the Barbican tonight was palpable and proved that she’s still held in the highest of regards. It’s been 16 years since the last Portishead album and her main musical activity since has been highly sought after cameo appearances on albums by other artists (most recently Kendrick Lamar) and the release of a recording of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No 3 (Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The opportunity to hear songs from her first solo album Lives Outgrown was therefore something of a golden ticket, a chance to be reacquainted with one of the most extraordinary voices of her generation that has very much remained in the public consciousness. Support came from fellow Domino signed artist Bill Ryder-Jones who alongside Evelyn Halls (aka Pet Snake) on cello played a short set featuring one song from each of his albums released to date. Each song reflects the gossamer chamber-psych-pop-lite he’s perfected since departing The Coral but This Can’t Go On from new album Iechyd Da stands out. He’ll return to the Barbican in October for his own headline show.

Beth Gibbons is accompanied by a seven-piece band when she appears and begins with the frosty, downplayed folk of Tell Me Who You Are Today but the show soon grows significantly in both scale and volume. The first single from the new album Floating In A Moment appears in the set early, its shifting sands and oblique pathways giving way to a closing that is reminiscent of Colour Of Spring era Talk Talk (Talk Talk drummer Lee Harris contributed to the album although isn’t part of tonight’s band). It’s one of the many compelling moments in tonight’s show.

The percussive Rewind provides something of a jolt, recalling Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds in its rawness and intensity and shows how her band can deliver stunning moments of escalation. The lower key dynamic is soon restored with the wintery, gothic bleakness of For Sale and the slow-moving, melancholy reflections of the cinematic Lost Changes. Oceans sees her continue to traverse the varying contours and changing moods of the album, possessing a real gravitas in a way not dissimilar to PJ Harvey.

The first diversion away from Lives Outgrown comes with the performance of Mysteries from Out Of Season, Gibbons’ 2002 album with Rustin Man. It has a poignant transparency to it and it’s soon followed by Tom The Model from the same album, another track which projects a sense of high art and drips with emotion. Beyond The Sun meanwhile is one of the most striking tracks on the new album and tonight benefits from an augmented backdrop with the eerie, displaced vocal melody winding its way through the dense surrounding sonic terrain. The pastoral Whispering Love closes the main set.

The encore begins with a sublime version of Roads from the debut Portishead album, sounding as tender and mysterious as ever, a deep pool of emotion into which the rapt audience are submerged. “I’ve got nobody on my side and surely that ain’t right,” Gibbons sings to devastatingly beautiful effect and we’re reminded why she’s one of the most universally praised vocalists of recent times. They close with a visceral rendition of Reaching Out which with its sense of drama and claustrophobia caps a magnificent, triumphant show by one of our most respected artists. It may have taken some time for her first solo album to be released, but tonight emphatically proved it was worth the wait.

buy Beth Gibbons MP3s or CDs
Spotify Beth Gibbons on Spotify

More on Beth Gibbons
Beth Gibbons @ Barbican, London
Beth Gibbons – Lives Outgrown
Beth Gibbons & the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra / Penderecki – Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3
Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man – Out Of Season
Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire