Concert Review: Amanda Palmer @ The Rivoli, Toronto 8/9/08

“I can paint my face, and stand very still

It’s not very practical, but it still pays the bills…”

The Perfect Fit – The Dresden Dolls

I wasn’t certain how last night’s very intimate solo show with the singer/songwriting force behind The Dresden Dolls would go last night at the Rivoli.  My one prior experience with Amanda solo was the event known as Fuck The Back Row, which was meant to be primarily a showcase of Amanda’s favourite songs from films, and it featured Brian Viglione, her drumming partner-in-crime anyway.  But Brian is off gallavanting and drumming his sweet heart out elsewhere, leaving Amanda entirely solo on the tiny stage, without a compatriot should the crowd prove unkind (an event that would hearken the End of Days, really, since Amanda’s words and piano-smashing are what make most of the wannabe-goth-punk girls squeal with delight, anyway).  I have not been reading setlists from previous dates on this mini-tour, nor have I been keeping up with Amanda’s blogging.  In the end, I came away pleasantly surprised, somewhat confused at setlist choices, but overall tremendously satisfied with Ms. Palmer’s outing.

The first pleasant surprise of the night was the opening duo Vermillion Lies, two Toronto-area girls who made their way, as many do, to California to seek their fortunes.  Billed as a cabaret duo, the best way I can describe their antics is to provide the following recipe:

1 Part Amanda Palmer wordplay

1 Part Quirky Canadian Humour a la Kids In The Hall

2 Parts Ditty Bops charm

Combine all ingredients in a blender, give ’em a whir, and pour out onto a stage before a group of audience members who eagerly embrace shrieking, “What’s In the Box?” (alas, not Gwyneth Paltrow’s head).

I am absolutely in love with these girls.  Their songs ranged from humour-filled love songs to descriptions of Planet Porn, to a celebration of Global Warming (“It’s hot!” or “It’s not cool!”, depending on where you stood in the venue).  Their charm and wit make for excellent audience engagement, and their lyrics will elicit healthy laughter and joy.  Add in their talent for percussion from the everyday object (BBQ grills, marionettes tapping their feet…) and you have yourself a versatile and fun night.  You will also be invited to join the circus by becoming a zombie and anyone with zombie humour is full of win in my books.

The mood was light and festive when Amanda Palmer took the stage, approaching a standing mic and lip synching her way through Ben Folds’ song Cologne, while holding up bristleboard messages, one word at a time that said hello, thanked us for coming, told us Ben was singing the song and that he’d helped on her solo disc Who Killed Amanda Palmer (reviewed previously here by myself) and also, in a candid admission that was very genuine given her body language and shy warming up for the beginning of the set, “It’s hard being up here alone.”  I can imagine so, given the years spent touring with Brian as a unit.  Dressed in a bra and a bee-adorned corset that made me wonder if her time recently with author Neil Gaiman had led to an inadvertent connection with Tori Amos (long-time friend of Neil), Amanda settled into the keyboard before her and launched into long-time solo track and now album cut Ampersand.

The entire night was an intimate sort of sharing, with banter between Amanda and the audience, an “Ask Amanda” portion of the show where questions were taken from the audience, and unfortunately, some people who felt the need to sing louder than Amanda to staples like Mrs. O and Half-Jack.  I’m just grateful said Bright Eyes-obsessed girl did not know the words to the solo songs that comprised a bulk of the set.  The questions ranged from the interesting (“Did you ever sell your Volvo?”) to the dishy (“Did David Lee Roth ever see the Shores of California video?”) to the silly (“Will you have my babies?”, to which Amanda declared, “No!  No babies for me right now.  I’m too busy playing a piano!”, and another boy asking, “Should I be a top or a bottom?”, to which Amanda first said, “How the hell should I know?”, then suggested an audience vote, then finally settled and said, “I’d have to say you’re a switch.  If you have to ask…”).  Stories recounted included the tale behind haunting song Strength Through Music and how her friend Kate asked her to bring a gun from Chicago to NY via Toronto, to Neil Gaiman phoning Amanda during the day and asking her to say hi to his fans at the Toronto show and to tell them he loves them, “because he is that fucking awesome.”

In terms of setlist choices, I have to say I was a bit puzzled.  Fan favourite Astronaut from the solo album had to be begged for in the encore, Oasis was a lucky moment brought on by a “you pick something” whim borne of “cheating” by “playing so many covers”, and rocking track Leeds United was nowhere to be found.  Coin-Operated Boy fell flat solo, namely because anyone who’s seen more than two shows is tired of the track live and its only saving grace is the interaction between Amanda and Brian on stage.  The plethora of covers was confusing, and seemed to be a case of Amanda not knowing whether it was “right” to play Dolls’ material solo (even though she wrote it!) and not wanting to just play the entire new solo disc live and call it a night.  Don’t get me wrong;  the covers were all solid and throroughly enjoyable, but I come to see Amanda to see Amanda’s lyrical magic at work.  If I were to peg a few songs from The Dresden Dolls’ catalogue as strong choices for solo play, I’d suggest The Perfect Fit, Slide, Truce, First Orgasm, Delilah, Me & The Minibar, Boston, Glass Slipper….   See Amanda?  Plenty of better choices than that radio-loved song about that boy of plastic and elastic!  For a cover, try Emilie Autumn’s Gothic Lolita!

One of the things I appreciate about Amanda is her willingness to collaborate live with her openers, and the guest vocals with Vermillion Lies on encore Radiohead cover Creep (whilst standing in the audience) were wonderful.  Amanda strumming that tiny Uke cracked me up.  Another thing I have to express is that, this being my first time hearing Amanda perform after surgery to address her vocal cords, I was astonished at how clean and powerful her voice sounded.  She almost sounded better than prior to the surgery.  Kudos to her surgeon!

More information can be found about Amanda at her solo MySpace

Vermillion Lies is also on MySpace


*Entrance – lip synching to Cologne by Ben Folds*
Icarus (Jason Webley cover)
Blake Says
Mrs. O
I Google You
Runs In the Family
Coin-Operated Boy
Strength Through Music
Guitar Hero
Look Mummy, No Hands (Dillie Keane cover)
Apres Moi (Regina Spektor cover)

Creep (Radiohead cover with Amanda on Uke! Guest vox by Vermillion Lies as she walked through the crowd singing)

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