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tori amos: live at the savoy theatre 11/05/09
May 15, 2009, 10:23 am
Filed under: live, review | Tags: , , ,

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Tori Amos
Savoy Theatre, London ••••
May 11, 2009

“How crap was that?” purred Tori Amos conversationally, addressing her expectant audience for the first time. Four songs into her one-off solo show at London’s elegant Savoy Theatre to promote her new album Abnormally Attracted To Sin (out on Monday [review]), she wasn’t talking about the flawless version of ‘Crucify’ she’d just hammered out of her trusty Bösendorfer grand. She was referring to the food poisoning that had her doubled over in pain a fortnight ago, forcing an exceedingly rare cancellation that saw many fans who had travelled from as far as the US turned away from the venue at the eleventh hour. One fan shouted something back, perhaps a little sore that Tori won’t be covering her travel expenses, while another asked her if she was feeling better. She was, she replied, before expertly seizing the opportunity to launch into one of her famed piano improvs, enhancing an off-the-cuff story about her new security guard Sade with a brilliantly cheeky riff on her namesake’s ‘Smooth Operator’.

This light relief was welcome after a rather sombre introduction to the evening, starting off with a rare outing of Tori’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. While at first it seemed to be an odd choice for an opener, though no less welcome, thematically it began to make sense as the rest of the 16-song set flowed. Songs of betrayal and of sordid and unhappy situations made up a good portion of the setlist and Tori expertly manipulated the emotion in each, often injecting humour into them by gesturing endearingly with her hands and pulling silly faces. The first new song of the night came quickly with second song ‘Lady In Blue’, the epic album closer that fans are already hailing as vintage Tori. Stripped of its broader instrumental palette, she worked hard to convey the bluesy mood of the song by switching back and forth between the Böse and a more modest electronic keyboard (the gig may have been advertised as Acoustically Attracted To Sin but it was just as ‘plugged’ as any other solo Tori show in recent years), passionately channelling the tobacco-stained late night regrets of the lyrics before bringing it home with a dramatic piano solo finale that brought the house down.

Mirroring her triumphant SXSW showcase back in March, Tori followed up with another new song, ‘Curtain Call’, an appropriate choice for the evening’s surroundings. A dense and complex piece on the album, when laid bare it sounded even more poignant and charged. The undeniable guts of Abnormally Attracted To Sin may have been watered down by some schmaltzy inclusions, but Tori’s power of the sonic striptease always surprises. Even ‘Maybe California’, one of the new album’s most sickly moments, sounded utterly heartbreaking when declothed of its OTT orchestration, while lead single ‘Welcome To England’ was transformed into a whole new animal and was a surprising highlight. Tori’s trademark ability to play two opposing keyboards and sing simultaneously is still seriously impressive, and she used the switch back to solo piano to belt out the chorus and really work her instrument. The prize for the most magical transformation, however, has to go to ‘Taxi Ride’. Without the mild band arrangements found on Scarlet’s Walk, the intensity of the song’s emotional lyrics were brought to the fore with Tori pausing her hands to bring home the lines “Just another dead fag to you, that’s all / just another light missing”, finally allowing one of her slightly more overlooked songs to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with crowd-pleasing classics such as ‘Crucify’ and ‘Silent All These Years’.

Tori’s ability to tell unconventional stories through her songs and thoughtful sequencing also shone through with ‘Mary Jane’, her wryly humorous new ode to a teenage boy’s fascination with illegal herbs, which was nicely followed by a touching rendition of 1998’s ‘Jackie’s Strength’ (“Sleepovers, Beene’s got some pot”), both tapping into the theme of youthful self-discovery. Other highlights included a hair-raising rendition of The Beekeeper‘s ‘Barons Of Suburbia’ with its rousing, seething chant of “She is risen! She is RISEN!” as Tori practically laid on the lower range of the piano and pounded her way through the final lines of the seven-minute epic. A few minutes’ respite followed before Tori returned to the stage with a heartbreaking two-song encore of ‘Over The Rainbow’ and a devastatingly powerful run through Boys For Pele‘s ‘Putting The Damage On’, and then it was over – a short show by her standards at only an hour and a half.

As the Savoy was cleared of its patrons, those seated in the absurdly steep grand circle risked a grisly fall by climbing over the chairs to get out, breathing a sigh of relief when they did that (a) no one died and (b) the lioness has gone nowhere. Tori may have put her fans’ palates to the test with her last few albums, but she rarely disappoints when on stage behind her piano. As playful, witty and uncompromising as ever, Tori remains a towering force of vitality and talent, no matter how adrift she seems from the rest of the music world these days. She’ll return in the autumn for the full band treatment that most of the songs on Abnormally Attracted To Sin require, and will no doubt be pulling out all the stops again to cement their place in her canon. 

Léigh Bartlam

 

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I haven’t heard the new album in its entirety yet, though a friend told me it’s as bad as The Beekeeper. But I have no doubt that Tori’s live performances are still captivating. Even when I haven’t been keen on her latest release, I would list each of her concerts that I’ve attended among my favorite live performances. Her voice and instrumentation always sound so much better in person, at least since To Venus & Back.

Which leads me to wonder if the disappointment we’ve all felt in her recent albums has more to do with the production and studio effects than with the songs themselves or the artist. I hope that she returns to a simpler way of recording in the future – such as she did when recording Boys for Pele live in a church with just her piano and harpsichord. The studio trappings seem to water down her music.

Comment by muruch

absolutely. I don’t think there’s any room for doubt these days that Tori is abnormally attracted to pressing all the buttons at once at Martian Studios. Tori live >>>>>>> Tori in the studio.

having said that, some of the technical production on AATS is pretty stellar. a lot of thought has gone into it, which is more than can be said for some of the atrocious lyrics. the better songs are a cut above The Beekeeper but the real stinkers plumb new depths. you should definitely still check it out. but yes, we can only hope that next time she remembers that less can be so much more!

Comment by Wears The Trousers magazine

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