Beth Ditto, the Judsonia native and former frontwoman for Gossip, kicked off a tour in support of her full-length solo debut “Fake Sugar” with a show last night at the Rev Room. Ditto is clearly in stellar vocal shape, as she proved on her new tracks (“Fire,” “Oh My God,” “We Could Run” and the sweet, delicate “Clouds”) and on older Gossip songs (“Love Long Distance,” “Standing in the Way of Control”). She was effusive about her roots in rural Arkansas, her skilled bandmates, her fans, her fellow White County queer movers and shakers (House of Avalon, specifically) and most notably, her family. A velvet roped section seeming to contain the whole of Beth Ditto’s living family tree served as the focal point for her anecdotes, affection and general gushing – sometimes mid-phrase in song.
At one point, Ditto handed the microphone to the fans at the footlights and asked them to “pass this to my brother.” (They did. He sang. Clearly, the good vocal genes didn’t make their way to Beth’s DNA alone.) The show ended with Beth and her mother duetting on “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” hand in hand.
Sans Gossip, with her name writ large on a stage banner in that bell-bottom print every classic country album used in the seventies, Ditto is in her element. Maybe it’s being billed as a solo artist that’s allowed her to shed any sense of being beholden to a band’s collective identity? Or maybe it was all those rainbow sequins. Either way, Ditto’s performance last night was supremely connected to the audience and utterly sincere, as if she’s given herself full permission to embrace the Dolly Parton-esque, razzle-dazzle bits of her stage persona that come so naturally to her.