Tori Amos remarked, halfway through her emotionally wrenching set, that she was relieved to be back on the west coast. In fact, many of her road crew had commented to her “everything would be all right once they got to the west coast.” Indeed, everything was more than all right. The two-hour concert was, in essence, a well choreographed religious experience, and the ritual centered on Amos and her piano.The past two tours have seen Amos branching from the piano ballad roots of her first solo album, Little Earthquakes, into the world of trip-hop, rock-god guitar licks via Robert Plant and the road which forked when Kate Bush took a creative rest-stop. Regardless of the critiques that met her and her prodigious band on the last two tours (“this is so loud, what happened to ‘Silent all these Years’…?”), she had definitively proven, once and for all, that her hands may be playing a ballad but her passion was always rooted in late 60s and 70s rock music. It was here, in the pop cultural canon, that Amos found the conduit in which to channel her rebellion from her Methodist minister father and the Peabody Conservatory (for “geniuses”), which she attended. So it should have been no surprise that Amos, the self proclaimed “road dog”, hired a band and toured so heavily that she lost a boyfriend, a pregnancy and in her own words, “her bearings”.
One could hardly say, though, that Amos was abandoned by her fans (selling out Madison Square Garden on her last swing through the States). But there was a longing that always surfaced: to see Amos, alone, her and the piano. This became not only a rite of passage for many fans, but a temporal indicator of when you fell in love with the lady and her Bosendorfer piano. This hierarchy within fandom could be easily recognized at every show as the “diehard” Tori fan could recite every show they had been to, rehearse the set list and reconstruct the personal network they had created on the way, as indicated by the screaming and hugging that fills every lobby theater that Amos plays. And no word has been spared to dissect this “cultural phenomenon”, as the Village Voice called it. But what remains in the spotlight of it all is the music, and this has never been more exemplified than at the Paramount Theater on November 9.
The rapid pace of the set change from opener, Rufus Wainwright, left many in attendance running to their seats. They were met with a slashed floor length curtain; black velvet looked as if it had been stabbed repeatedly producing large gaps where pale blue light filtered through. A very large print of Amos holding a child’s birthday cake lowered halfway to the floor. The poster pulsated as a result of a subtle strobe effect; the happy wife, as played by Amos, seemed to take breath in unison with the opening beats of her remake of Eminem’s, “97′ Bonnie and Clyde.” There were audible gasps and hands clutching mouths as Amos, nowhere in sight, seemed to spit the words of hate and horrific irony that Eminem had originally penned as an ode to stabbing and dumping his wife in the river-while their child coos in the front seat of the automobile.
This stunning beginning ended with Amos emerging to take a seat at her piano and launching into five songs before ever directly addressing the audience. The audience, frozen in their seats during the beginning, applauded into standing ovations as each song merged into the next: “Bliss”, “Leather”, “Upside Down”, “Little Earthquakes” and “Caught a Light Sneeze” all made “appearances” (as Tori engenders each song as a netherwordly muse when speaking of them).
Amos then turned to her audience; lit in fluorescent white from below, in effect, turning her pronounced cheekbones into a skeletal apparition and alternately whispered and sang the culminating performance of the evening, “Me and a Gun,” acapella. The only sound in the house was muffled crying and, at the end, the overwhelming choruses of “thank you.” To some this “cultural event” could very well seem too emotionally laden, too new age-just too much for a “concert”. But to dismiss this music is a terrible injustice of pop cultural pragmatism, because despite the connotations that “TORI” might generate for some, despite the hugging and crying, despite the fanaticism of certain fans-the music that filled The Paramount Theater cannot be discounted. Even with all the peripheral events and “cultural phenomena” that might have been in motion that night, there, at the center, sat a small woman with a big piano, even larger talent and an unquenchable love of rock and roll.