Amanda Palmer at Gothic Theatre, 9/21/12
Amanda Palmer at the Gothic last night.
All photos by Elyse Mitchell.
Amanda Palmer wants to ask the audience a personal question. It's halfway through her set, and the crowd is understandably sweaty, aroused, and willing to answer anything she asks. "How many of you, in high school, were described as 'goth'?" To which the crowd, a smattering of youngish white kids, mostly female and bookish, responded with absolutely hysterical applause.
Palmer is no stranger to drama. She is the public face of punk/cabaret outfit the Dresden Dolls, the wife of celebrated British novelist Neil Gaiman and the naked singer in the bathtub in the Flaming Lips' NSFW video for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."
And last night, she was the queen bee of darkness, reigning over her devoted subjects. Dressed in silk and lace, reminiscent of Charlotte Rampling's character in The Night Porter, Palmer slinked from the keyboard to the edge of the stage. A massive white sheet was draped behind the singer and her Grand Theft Orchestra while projections on said blanket showed photos submitted by fans before the show. The effect was as dramatic and unguarded: Concertgoers' (sometimes very) personal photos were flashed onstage. Anyone coming here expecting a rock concert was treated instead to a kids' bedsheet fort, augmented by guitars and crying.
"Smile (Pictures or It Didn't Happen)" began the long and winding set. "Get it 'cause we'll all be dead/And no one dead can use a camera," the 36-year-old Boston-area native sang, while an inordinate amount of corseted torsos could be seen swaying near the front of the audience.
"Killing Type" came next. Reminiscent of Missing Persons (the Dale Bozzio influence is unmistakable), it was one of the few straightforward rock songs of the night. Elements of new wave pop merged with prog riffs that her four-piece band, wearing all-white outfits and playing all-white instruments, pulled off handily. The guys moved across the stage like it was their first time playing these songs, and the crowd responded ravenously.
Palmer and company played mostly newer fare from Theatre is Evil, her 2012 release that is both the highest-ever earning Kickstarter campaign (totaling $1.2 million) and the subject of a recent Internet shitstorm. For what it's worth, the orchestra onstage last night seemed gleeful, to the point of disbelief, that they were backing the singer.
"We just drove 18 hours from Austin," Palmer told the crowd breathlessly between songs, right before giving a shout-out to her friends in DeVotchKa. She has a strange manner of speaking, that Palmer: When she banters with the audience, she talks directly to them -- not in empty "How you doing tonight, Denver?" platitudes -- but in sincere tones that make concertgoers feel as if the hundreds of folks next to them aren't even in the room.
Continue reading for more details, a Critic's Notebook and a setlist.
This was perhaps most apparent when Palmer began reading comments submitted by the audience, telling her their secrets (these were solicited before the show on a card at the merch table, as was another card asking folks who they wished they were). If ever there was a rock concert that could be mistaken for a group therapy session, this was it.
And it was a two-way street. Palmer sang another new song, "Berlin," "not about the city in Germany though," she said. "It was my stripper name." This and so many other songs in Palmer's catalog touch on some serious topics about gender roles, male/female tensions and sex. Such is the territory of a woman dressed as a dominatrix-cum-generalissimo.
As the concert crawled past the two-hour mark, Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra played an epic, 20-minute long rendition of George Michael's "Careless Whisper." This was one of many memorable (if decidedly WTF?) moments of the gig, which also included a crowdsurfing stunt where the train of Palmer's dress stretched over the audience's heads, from the edge of the stage to the sound mixing booth a few yards away.
With the George Michael cover, the gimmick involved guitarist Chad Raines handing his axe over to audience members and Palmer having random folks show off their skills while the rest of the band played on. It was godawful but memorable. A few people plucked a string or two. Someone finally cranked out an AC/DC riff or two, totally off key from the rest of the song. Mercifully this ended before it became a crowd-control liability.
In every instance like this, where Palmer's shouts, snarls, and generally trainwreckish behavior made the singer appear like she was having a nervous breakdown, she would finally recompose herself and introduce the next song. By the time she asked the sweaty masses, "You guys ready to feel some deep feelings?", the answer was a foregone conclusion.
Personal Bias: I'd heard about both the rabid devotion of Dresden Dolls fans and the one-of-a-kind performances Palmer has long been known for. Nothing could've prepared me for the reality of this spectacle, though.
Random Note: During "Missed Me," bandmembers switched instruments between verses, meaning each musician took a turn on the guitar, bass, drums and keys.
By the Way: This was an event where the Renaissance Faire went steampunk.
01. Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen)
02. Killing Type
03. Missed Me
04. Want it Back
06. Grown Man Cry
07. The Box
09. Bed Song
10. In My Room
12. Careless Whisper
14. Olly Olly Oxen Free
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