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Over The Weekend: Beth Orton at Dan's Silverleaf

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Beth Orton
Dan's Silverleaf in Denton
February 18, 2011

Better than: the sore throat I've picked up since the show.

It seems like two or three times a year, Dan's Silverleaf gets a performer that causes one to double take.

Bill Frisell, Daniel Lanois, any number of jazz luminaries in town to work with the University of North Texas -- they always find their way on to Dan's stage. And, while Beth Orton might not rank alongside luminaries like Lanois, the British singer-songwriter's appearance in Denton still surprised quite a few -- especially since her last album was released way back in 2006.

But Orton was in Denton at the invitation of Midlake, whom she met at the Mojo Magazine Awards last year. They discussed working together at that time, and, although Orton has a new album coming out later this year, as well as some scheduled time off due to pregnancy, those plans seem to be moving forward.

And while in town, she and Midlake set up a quick show at Dan's. That quick timing -- she only got into town on Thursday night -- and the time she and Midlake had spent working on new material led to a loose and ultimately charming show.

But the guest of honor seemed mostly shy and humbled as she took the stage on Friday, Perhaps she wasn't sure what to expect from the crowd. Or, perhaps, she was just fully aware that she wasn't 100 percent prepared.

Accompanying herself on acoustic guitar -- graciously provided by Eric Pulido of Midlake -- for most of the set, Orton's set mixed in older tunes like "Sugar Boy," "Central Reservation" and "Stolen Car" with newer songs from her upcoming album.

New or old, though, the songs' arrangements sometimes got the best of her. On multiple occasions, she either forgot words or the next chord, leading to more than one restart.

At any normal show, this would have been pretty disappointing. But this wasn't just any other show -- like a promotional stop or part of a regular tour. Everyone in attendance understood it was a one-off, and seemed to appreciate it, warts and all.

In fact, the crowd cheered and encouraged her through each stop-down, for which Orton was equally appreciative.

The evening's peak, however, was when members of Midlake joined her on stage for a couple of songs, including "She Cries Your Name" from her landmark 1996 debut, Trailer Park. Orton showed renewed confidence once she wasn't alone on stage, and the band, yet again, showed their abilities as sidemen. After only part of an afternoon for rehearsals, there was little else to rely on to besides skill, and the group came through wonderfully.

After Midlake left the stage, Orton was alone again to finish the set with a quick encore featuring a couple of her personal favorites -- "I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine" by The Ronettes and "Ooh Child" by the Five Stairsteps. Both soul classics were re-rendered as gorgeous and heartfelt folk tracks that left the audience speechless.

In her song "Central Reservation," Orton sings, "Nothing's as sacred as you want it to be when it's real." And while this night wasn't flawless, it didn't need to be. It wasn't a production.

Instead, it was taken for what it really was -- a favor to her fans, and a special and intimate time for them to spend with an artist.

And, at the end of this night, those fans couldn't have been more appreciative of the gift given by Orton, a performance that didn't need to be perfect in order to be meaningful.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I've always wanted to see Beth Orton live. Her first two albums made a huge impression on me when they were released, and, to finally get to see her in such an intimate setting, it was worth the wait.

By The Way: Possessed by Paul James performed before Orton, but didn't officially open for her. Dan's had two separate shows on this night, leaving Orton's fans standing outside until PbPJ was almost through with his set. It wasn't an issue, though, as both he and the vast majority of his audience stuck around for Orton's set.   

Random Note: Anything that happens in Denton starts on the patio at Dan's. The town is run from that spot. I'm convinced of it.

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