Beth Orton, Brodka at Saint Lukes, 2/10/16

Saint Lukes, with all its Calton charm and the stained-glass prettiness of a church conversion, is the perfect venue for Beth Orton – returning goddess of electronic folk, who is as equally ethereal as she is down-to-earth.

Orton, who emerged from a diversity of collaborative efforts during the 1990s (working with the likes of William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers), has consistently innovated her sound and latest album Kidsticks is a multifaceted offering of trip hop, psych-pop and a percussive, synth-driven twist on her old favourite, electronica.

 

Support act Brodka, hailing from Poland, come to the stage with full band adorned with gleamingly baroque outfits and a sound to match the sheen.

There is a carnivalesque, theatrical quality too much of her songs, accompanied by dissonant synths and enhanced by Brodka’s melodic, soaring voice.

Aesthetically, it’s a bit Bat For Lashes, all sequins and sparkly synths; but there’s also an art-punk, Karen O vibe to some of her fierier songs.

Standout tracks include a mesmerising cover of Nirvana’s ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, which slows the tempo down, focusing on Brodka’s tender yet expressive vocals, replacing Cobain’s pained growl with hypnotic legato.

After the lullaby effect of several songs’ worth of prettily intricate guitar work over atmospheric synths, ‘My Name is Youth’ provides a punkier, upbeat number to warm up the crowd.

Orton takes to the stage in a red leather jacket and silver glitter-ball leggings, as ever the blushing queen of folktronica that she was vaunted as 20 years ago.

Kidsticks’ lead single, ‘Moon’ opens the set as a slow builder, with its crunchy bass, staccato strings and smoothly looping vocals; Orton operating her keyboard with all the deftness of someone who has learned some new tricks during her time recording in LA.

Certainly, her latest album is drenched in Californian sunshine, balancing cutting-edge production with a tinge of eighties nostalgia, with catchy choruses, groovy bass, glitzy keyboard and poppy beats on songs like ‘1973’ and ‘Snow’; but as Orton complains to the audience about the LA heat, the record also reflects a certain withdrawal into darkness and introspection, its sonically-expansive production rendering a world of eerie loops, bewitching lyrics and playful percussion.

Orton mixes up her set with tracks from past and present, with Trailer Park favourites ‘Touch Me With Your Love’ and ‘Galaxy of Emptiness’ given pride of place.

There’s something very warm and endearing about Orton’s stage presence, as she admits to forgetting to play a song and laughs off the drunken cries of folk in the audience who at once profess their love for her and try to tell her their life stories (“I was born in 1973!” a woman shrieks, as the song ‘1973’ begins with all its jagged synths and retro melodies).

Clearly, Orton’s heritage as a Joni Mitchell figure among lovers of both folk and electronica stands her in good stead for a Glasgow crowd and she is well-loved by her audience, shyly admitting between songs that she is “insecure” and appreciates the reassurance.

It’s hard to believe someone 20 years into the game still requires encouragement, especially as Orton has refined her sound under the continual rubric of experimental enthusiasm.

‘Petals’ is a highlight from the first half of the set, with its soporific, dubstep-inspired loops, descriptive lyrics sung with smooth and restrained vocals; the layering of synth effects, soft drumbeats and ambient guitar twangs unfurling like a strange and exotic flower.

Throughout the set, Orton moves effortlessly between her more playful, bass-vibrating Kidsticks tracks and the stripped-back emotional tenderness of older songs like ‘Pass in Time’.

For the encore, some of her more acoustic gems are selected from the archive and ‘Sweetest Decline’ – requested by the audience – is a fitting way to end, performed solo by Orton, whose lush warm voice moves languidly over a finger-picked guitar accompaniment.

It’s that sleepy, contented feeling of being the passenger on a car journey; there is the comfort of coming home in Orton’s songs – their nostalgic familiarity, the care she gives to every vocal delivery, hovering over lyrics that are either lovingly reflective or dazzlingly abstract.

It’s clearly her eclecticism that allows Orton to continually carve her place in many a contemporary musical niche, and performances like these remind us that she is as much an electronic craftswoman as a folksy romantic, as much synth-pop heroine as warm-hearted Sandy Denny.

Words: Maria Sledmere

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