After a protracted absence, Portishead lynchpin Beth Gibbons is back – but with a collective called Rustin Man. The only UK show (so far) in support of their new album Out Of Season drew a full house who cheered loudly when Gibbons appeared on the scene.
It was to be a short set at which the entire new album was aired. Mooching about and smoking ciggies, Gibbons let the music do the talking, steadfastly avoiding banter. And what music. With no DJ in sight, a backing band showcased Gibbons’ voice.
Guitars, keyboards, drums and a violin filled in the atmospherics of songs, hushing the audience from the outset. The sinister feel of Portishead’s material carried through into the new songs, assisted by perfect lighting, while Gibbons’ distinctive, lispy voice dominated.
Gibbons sounded powerful and fragile simultaneously, in a way surely not heard since Sandy Denny and with the vaguest hint of Billie Holliday about her. The audience loved her.
The stand-out track was set closer Funny Time Of Year – an epic tour de force to rival anything Portishead have ever recorded.
There was a song by way of encore – Rustin’ Man? – and then Gibbons self-effacingly voiced her hope that her audience had liked the set. She apologised for it being so short and thanked everyone for coming – her first words other than those in song for the entire evening. Yes Beth, we liked it. Lots.
To rapturous applause, the six-piece band left the stage, the audience retiring to anticipate the release of the album and to chat about that voice.