Amanda Palmer at First Avenue, 10/3/12
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
There's no doubt about it, Amanda Palmer is a force to be reckoned with, onstage and off. Going to a performance featuring Palmer isn't an idle, listening-only experience: it's a full-blown theatrical performance filled with laughs and wonder, sadness and passion.
The singer greeted the crowd in a long, white kimono after husband Neil Gaiman told a rousing, hilarious story to a crowd more than willing to eat up his every word and punchline with whoops and guffaws (seriously, guffaws). If nothing else, it was worth it to arrive early and see Gaiman scream "Fuck" into the microphone, revealing the first time as a child that he realized words held power.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra opened their set with an instrumental piece backlit against heavy strobe lights pulsating on the white sheet hanging upstage. Clad in a bra, gypsy-chic bangles and necklaces, a corset, and gold leggings, Palmer fit the part of a rock star. Though she did trade her signature curlycue eyebrows for a pair of black squares painted over her eyes.
It was 10:30 when they started peforming and the band was raring to go, bopping along to the Cure as First Avenue's screen lifted. After a quick introduction, they launched into "Smile (Pictures or It Didn't Happen)." For their part, the crowd took the words to heart, and there only one point at which there wasn't a phone or camera from the floor focused on Palmer (see the White Box below).
Staying true to the album order, Palmer launched into "The Killing Type" right after. While this is already one of Theater Is Evil's standout songs, it was obvious that the song was infinitely better live. It quickly became evident that all Palmer's songs are made for dual purposes -- not just listening through headphones, but for truly experiencing the verve and pent-up energy unleashed during a live performance.
From slapping herself silly to accidentally throwing a rogue bracelet across the stage to screaming into a bullhorn, Palmer lost herself in her songs and the audience went right along with her. For a Wednesday night, the crowd buzzed with excitement and Palmer gave them "the gold medal for awesomeness" dedicating the last night of the tour to them.
For whatever reason (weeknight, Palmer's kerfuffle, or what-have-you) First Avenue wasn't at capacity, and there was room for even vertically-challenged listeners to see the stage. However, when Palmer opened up her arms towards the audience during "Bottom Feeder," took a deep breath and plunged into the crowd, half the floor rushed the stage vying for a chance to touch Palmer. More than once, Palmer dove into the audience and crowd surfed, letting her fans literally hold her up just as they did with their contributions to her album's Kickstarter campaign.
Unfortunately, Palmer didn't stick to her plan for Prince covers at First Avenue, though she did bust out a rousing version of George Michael's "Careless Whisper." The night's true disappointment, however, came from First Avenue itself. The bumping, grinding beat from the Record Room couldn't be contained, spilling over into Palmer's set throughout the night. Particularly upsetting was the background thump heard over the presentation and reading of notes from the White Box, an introduction to Palmer's live homage ("In My Room") to her audience's inner struggles with pain.
Crowd-sourced sorrows about sad/bad things happening in people's bedrooms were collected on paper throughout the evening and read aloud to the audience, ranging from people unable to stop a friend's suicide to rape and abuse. While this was a definite sobering moment during the concert, it was often over-shadowed by the commotion from the Record Room. Palmer even admitted, "If I were a less conservative person, I'd suggest we mutiny and storm it."
In the end, Palmer sang a healthy mix of her back catalog while erring towards her new Theater Is Evil work. It was hard to tell what exactly resonated with the audience most, but there was definite love for Palmer's old Dresden Dolls songs. The frenetic energy of "Missed Me" combined with the Grand Theft Orchestra switching instruments multiple times during the song, as well as the rousing, pre-encore "Girl Anachronism" were definitely a double-dose of highlights from the evening. The encore featured a new song and an old song, but it didn't matter to the crowd who loved and sang along to both of them just the same.
As for the Grand Theft Orchestra...
Drummer Michael McQuilken played the whole night shirtless with white body-paint smeared across his face and torso, as if ready to battle the incredible stage theatrics ahead of him. To his credit, during the George Michael cover, he hammered out a mind-boggling drum solo with Sarah Lasley perched atop his shoulders with her camera.
Bassist Jherek Bischoff played with a toothy grin and a white suit after his opening set in all black earlier that evening. Bischoff is quite talented, having composed lovely string arrangements for the album and having chosen great local musicians to be a part of the crowd-sourced horn and string section. It's obvious why David Byrne and he worked on "Eyes" together.
Guitarist Chad Raines looked like a Sgt. Pepper-esque version of Billie Joe Armstrong, but played and kept up with Amanda Palmer's theatrics all night long with never-ending energy. He also shreds like a pro, even while straddling the camera girl while Palmer attacked him with a giant, stuffed white tiger from behind.
The crowd-sourced musicians (though I hate to refer to them as such) did marvelously in general, let alone having just learned the concert music in the First Avenue garage earlier that day. Palmer let each of them have their moment, thanking them profusely all night long. She mentioned the "cultural kerfuffle" she'd been going through for the past month and expressed her gratitude to all the musicians and fans that stuck by her.
Say what you want about Palmer and her methods of procuring musicians, the woman puts her all into her performances. There's no half-assed songs, no duds, because Palmer vacillates between scream-singing, whispering, and powerhouse vocals the whole time. Palmer, ever the punk-cabaret princess, has solidified her spot in loyal fans' hearts in Minnesota.
Critics Bias: I've been an Amanda Palmer fan since my awkward adolescent years, coinciding with the formation of The Dresden Dolls, but eventually lost touch with her music. This concert was a reignition of that feeling I got listening to her on repeat on my yellow Walkman a long time ago. Also, I got into a high school production of West Side Story with an audition that featured the only song I can sing a capella: "Coin-Operated Boy" (a song sadly missing from the evening's performance).
The Crowd: A sartorial split between Brechtian cabaret-chic and all-black ensembles which may or may not have been related to the division between chill head-boppers and adamant full-bodied dancers in the main room.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Fuck you! If dance is not the way to interpret music, I don't know what is."
Random Notebook Dump: There were so many different openers and performances before the main event, the beginning of the concert felt a little Vaudevillian in nature featuring Ronald Reagan, Jherek Bischoff, and The Simple Pleasure.
Smile (Pictures or It Didn't Happen)
The Killing Type
Want It Back
Grown Man Cry
Trout Heart Replica
In My Room
Olly Olly Oxen Free
Do It With A Rockstar
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