Beth Orton's music can sound pretty spaced-out--not necessarily stoned, but definitely beautiful. This led to interesting effects at the 9:30 club Wednesday night, where she played before a sold-out audience (it helped that tickets were only 99 cents). Everybody sounded appreciative as heck after each song, but the rest of the time the ongoing buzz of conversations threatened to drown out the music.
To be fair, much of Orton's work, especially atmospheric, slow-paced songs like "Galaxy of Emptiness" and the dirgelike "So Much More" can be easy stuff to drift off to. Those who did let their attention stray, however, missed out on more subtle pleasures like the acoustic delicacy of "Blood Red River" and Orton's languid rendition of "Central Reservation," fueled by her band's blend of husky, rumbling electric guitar and sparkling synthesizer notes.
Up-tempo pieces like "Someone's Daughter," the current single "Stolen Car," "Touch Me With Your Love" and "Sugar Boy" (the latter with a winding, sinuous bass line that suggests the time Orton's spent with trip-hop acts in England) had no problem seizing everyone's attention, though. Nor did Orton herself, thanks to a bubbly, sometimes giddy stage presence (she bonked her head on the microphone after one song).
Opener Kelly Willis delivered a more traditional country sound--honky-tonk-inflected rockers and ballads that were just made for slow dancing.