Now that my recording studio consignment obligation is over, it’s time to get back to blogging!!!
Maybe there needs to be some clarification with regard to that headline. I have been head over heels with Tori Amos since I first heard her tracks on the Little Earthquakes LP. While I was curious about this petite red headed stick of dynamite playing in frigid water in her “China” video, her looks were irrelevant because she won me over with the music. As she progressed (some would say ‘grew’) as an artist, she repeatedly proved herself to fans, critics, etc. While some would say albums like Strange Little Girls and The Beekeeper were sub-par for her, I hung in there. She hadn’t lost me yet.
However, when she released Midwinter Graces, I thought, “hey, everybody should experiment a little.” Not being a cold weather/winter holiday fan, I figured it just wasn’t for me. But I hadn’t lost faith in her. Yet. Then she released Night Of Hunters.
I researched the origin of this album, and it appears that the iconic label Deutsche Gramophone had commissioned Amos to write and record a pop symphony. Amos recruited her daughter and niece to record vocals on the piece. This is a common occurrence in pop music today, Kate Bush has her son on her latest release, Peter Gabriel has taken his daughter Melanie on tour and through his Real World Records, was able to release her solo EP.
Before we begin, there is more clarification needed to put you in the position I was in attending this show. While I was not exactly the biggest fan of the album, my companions (my best thing to ever happen to me, and stand-in photographer Amanda) and I are all equally huge Amos fans. A couple of Christmases ago, we gave her the Tori Amos Piano Collection box set as a gift (we got one for ourselves as well). So the following account is from the viewpoint of a die-hard fan.
Or at least I was…
Now the Beacon Theater is a beautiful venue. In speaking with the house sound engineer, my best thing to ever happen to me discovered that the theater had been acoustically tuned recently by a very well known audio company (who shall remain nameless as I have received no promotional consideration). So the sonics, which are important to classical music, will be handled by the room with little to no problem. This means, if any of the instruments sound off, bad, distorted, the room will reveal it.
Not too much pressure on the performers.
To her regret, she found out that the engineer for Amos (her husband, Mark Hawley) will have little pressure on him as he is using an automated mixing console, and it only has 16 tracks to begin with. Disheartening for someone who enjoys the intricacies of live classical music.
Before we get into the “classical” music, we have an opening act, you all know my position on opening acts. There’s no point in talking about acts no one knows anything about, no one knows their songs, no one knows anything about them so why waste time and effort. Especially since this guy is lightweight.
Amos is lugging around a string quartet from the UK. Their name was tossed out, and I could easily research it. As I mentioned in my Angelfire review last time, one of my colleagues on one of the syndication sites mentioned their name. Frankly, these guys aren’t exactly the Kronos Quartet, so who cares…
The quartet starts and I have Laurie Anderson flashbacks. I will not know the names of the songs until I get home and access the disc. I listened to Night Of Hunters ONCE and was unimpressed (to put it nicely). As close as I can figure, they started with “Shattered Sea”. When Amos finally takes the stage, the quartet is quickly drowned out by applause. Mind you, the quartet is equipped with mics on their instruments. Not vocal mics placed in front of the instruments, but pickups mounted directly in the violins, cello and viola. Of course Amos’ ever-present Bosendorfer piano is on stage, but she also has a synth so it is not an exclusively acoustic show. Thankfully.
Mind you, I fully confess to being less experienced as a classical concert attendee, as opposed to attending rock or progressive (even experimental or avant-garde) shows, but even I can tell this quartet is over-blown. The members acting like rock stars. Hey Beatles…
To appease the hard-core fans, she performs “God” from the Under The Pink disc. With only solo piano and echo-enriched vocals, she puts a twist into the song as she blows into Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” from Hounds Of Love. In a bit of convenient coincidence, I had just purchased a copy of HOL a few weeks ago.
I wonder if Amos and Bush had crossed paths in merry old England yet. So many coincidences.
She brings the tune back around to “God” to finish it.
The quartet telegraphs its presence by turning on and off their music stand lights. So you can brace for it, I guess.
They act as percussion for “Suede” from To Venus And Back. But when Amos physically crosses over to the mic over the synth, its level is far too hot. Overall, a competent version, stringed percussion aside.
Amos claims New York City is a ‘homecoming’. She’s from Maryland, and lives in England, so that remark is lost on me…
She returns to the music with “Velvet Revolution” from American Doll Posse. Again, a competent version, she emotes vocally and slams her piano. This is reminiscent of the Amos I know. Too bad this energy is rare tonight.
From the NOH release, “Fearlessness” is next. Strings introduce the piece, and while the quartet are “rocking the socks”, the song comes off as stale. This is no surprise as the entire NOH album came off as stale to all of our attending party. Yet the rest of the crowd (as well as a reviewer from Rolling Stone) feel the performance is gold. The crowd goes wild every time Amos solos. We know she can play piano.
“Girl Disappearing” again from American Doll Posse, begins with trilling strings, and sure, Amos’ voice is clean and pure, but it’s still stiff. So far into this show, not worth the money. Her voice pans on the end of a line and those tuned sonics sound great. But this IS night two of the stand, so all the bugs should be worked out.
The quartet leaves the stage to let Amos to her own devices for “Beauty Queen/Horses” from Boys From Pele. Alone, she is capable to do amazing things. But having seen her with Jon Evans and Matt Chamberlain so many times, without her expert rhythm section to propel her, the capacity of the song falls short and even the transition to “Horses” seems empty.
Lights can flash, chandeliers can shine, drapes can fall… After seeing her with a band, she is too mellow with age. In fact, during a recent CNN interview, Amos explains that she likens herself to a classic car. She reveals her age (48) and confesses that at her age, she cannot be as nubile as she once was. In an aside after the interview (cameras were still rolling) Amos espouses to the young hostess of the interview that she should age with grace. Really? If she were true to that word, why on earth does she have a thermonuclear spotlight on her face? I guess I should apologize for some of the photos, while my stand-in photographer is overtly capable, shooting pictures of Amos on this tour would challenge Annie Leibovitz.
This time, she uses the synth to model a Rhodes piano, but that mic is still too hot.
Speaking of lights, a botched lighting cue fouls up the intro to “Icicle” from Under The Pink. Still looking to entertain, Amos bobs between keyboards during the intro. As was the case with the opening joker, meter doesn’t seem to be a concern of either act. She does her best Reo Speedwagon impression as rogue audience member confesses his love for Amos.
The old clock on the wall says it is, at this point, 9:35 p.m. It’s gonna be long might.
Admittedly, she pulls off a nice performance of “Icicle”, but the Quartet returns for a stunted version of “Lust” from, again, To Venus… They are getting their money’s worth out of the ProTools panning delay plug-in. From my vantage point, I see no less than three Macs working towards the performance. Computers cannot inject quality into a human performance. True dat. But I know they are processing the hell out of Amos’ voice ON TOP of the delay.
“Winter” from the Little Earthquakes disc is unearthed. We were hoping she would pull out some older tunes. We got lucky. At first, it is note for note, but the quartet has yet to be heard. Maybe that’s why it sounds good. So far… They come in on the second verse. Gotta earn that Deutsche Gramophone paycheck.
So much for Amos’ voice being clean and pure, it craps out during the last few lines. She subverting the melodies to lower registers to make up for the fact that her voice may be shredded from the long tour.
If you don’t like my opinion so far, trust me, neither do I. I have learned that if I do not like the album, most likely the accompanying tour will be a disappointment. Remember, my usual photographer took this show off to see Amos and instead is texting a friend saying “Suffering through Tori Amos show…” My auxiliary photographer is asserting that her posterior is asleep and we share her pain.
From The Choirgirl Hotel is represented with “Spark”. This is the single from the album, but it’s dragging and listless. Anyone have any coffee, cola, anything with caffeine PLEASE? I gotta try to stay awake. This time the synth is modeling a harpsichord. The 32nd notes played by the quartet are not tight with each other, causing the song to sound like garbage. A shame.
A further shame was the technical difficulties during the intro to “Star Whisperer”, also from NOH. If ever Amos needed to improvise, it’s now! But since the string section is operating off of sheet music, she is locked into rehearsed arrangements.
She begins it with an arpeggiated piano with the strings coming in. A cello solo is sloppily presented. A recurring problem is Amos is either ahead or behind the string section, the mental connection she has with Evans and Chamberlain is not present here with the quartet. Perhaps it is a technical issue as I notice the viola player motioning for his monitor to be turned up during the staccato section in the middle. The second violin takes a solo.
Now my butt is asleep. This review will most likely not be getting better.
She concludes by slowing the tempo down, after which a technician returns to attending to monitor issues. The quartet again leaves the stage.
Renown for her covers, Amos pulls out a U2 deep cut, “Running To Stand Still” from their Eno-produced Joshua Tree. The delayed guitar does not translate well to a piano and strings, so I have little opinion of this. Sure she can cover whatever she wants, and she finds the most unusual tunes to cover. This time, she may have alienated some in the audience who would have rather heard another Amos tune. So long as it isn’t another tune from NOH.
Material recorded with full instrumentation has been stripped down before with success, quite often by Amos herself. However, not tonight. Her engineer cuts her vocal back as now the mic over the piano is breaking up. Every time she goes into the chorus, they have to cut her mic back. This sort of technical issue, as well as the ongoing monitor situations should have been sorted out the previous night. Granted, they change the set list from night to night. But on the last note, she wavers and not in a good way.
Under The Pink is brought out in the form of “Bells For Her”. The synth is emulating a choir/string voice and there is a gated delay on her voice. Amos rocks the piano bench suggestively as she plays the solo section. Even that can’t make this exciting. Amos has mastered transitioning from one mic to another. That can’t make it exciting.
“Josephine”, one more time from To Venus… is next. At this point it is getting more and more difficult to describe these songs, as, well, it breaks my heart to say this, but, all these songs are starting to sound the same. The quartet is back, but they are useless until the second verse.
The so-far-unrepresented Tales Of A Librarian disc is promoted with the song “Snow Cherries From France”. The second tune in-a-row that begins without the quartet. The stripped-down version is almost unrecognizable. To top it off, more monitor issues as Amos signals for her monitor to be turned down. I’ve had better monitor mixes with bar bands at this point.
A recognizable tune, “Hey Jupiter” from …Pele is disguised as first violin starts as Amos grabs and arranges her sheet music. Never saw her fettered to sheet music before. At this point my entire party is contemplating leaving!!! During one of my favorite Amos songs, we are bored as this rendering is tedius. The solo is reduced to string plucks by first and second chair violin. I’m still fairly off-put by the fact that “Hey Jupiter” required sheet music… The strings at the end make it sound like a hoedown.
Maybe we should have left…
Yet another Venus track, “Spring Haze” is next and frankly, despite some sturdy strings, is nothing special, disjointed even. As Amos sings “waiting on Sunday to land” I agree as I am waiting for Sunday to land too because that means this show will be OVER!!
A phased synth patch and percussive cello start “Cruel” also from …Choirgirl… The quartet serves more as effects than as a symphonic entity. Amos poses comically while the string section makes noise. For the line “I don’t know why” it occurs to me that Amos is relying too heavily on effects. Flash over substance.
Amos leaves the stage, we hope for the night. But all hopes are dashed as she returns for an encore. She is alone for China, but the strings music stand lights are still on. Damn. It is a note-for-note version, but I notice that the technicians are stirring by the mixing desk. Hopefully they are starting to pack up! At least the obligatory applause for the line “China all the way to New York” was kept to a minimum.
The string quartet is back. As they prepare to debut their solo at this performance, Amos claims that she is off to occupy Washington. The most banter from the performer all night.
The quartet plays one of their own compositions, “A Multitude Of Shades”. Wake me when it’s over. That is, if anyone cares. I know I don’t. Ironically, though, for THIS, the string section is tight.
Amos returns for “Leather” from her debut album. I called this one during the train ride to the show, that she would do this tune as part of the encore. What I did not see coming was that the version would be stale and (go figure) predictable.
I put my coat on in the hope it would be the show ender. But NOOOOOOOO…
A rare treat, “Siren” from the Great Expectations soundtrack is offered up. Characterized by long, sorrowful strings, it seems befitting for such a story. It is difficult to enjoy it as, by this time it has all become so insufferable. I am at a loss for words. ME!! This show was dreadful.
But, we aren’t done yet, GREAT (sarcasm is hard to determine in print media…).
She refuses to end the show until she completes “Big Wheel” from American Doll Posse. A bouncy version has the sheep in the audience clapping along. The strings make it sound southern rock. That just makes me want to leave even more. Not a southern rock fan. People in the crowd are reveling in the afterglow of the show. Those who didn’t leave early, and there were people who left early.
Wash ME away, PLEASE!!!
There were reviews published about this show already. I had to wait for the bad taste in my mouth to subside. Even a month or so later, I still have a bad aftertaste. Hopefully Amos will bounce back, or she will be the second artist in two years to disenfranchise me.
I’m gonna rinse next time with a terrific group, Random Touch. We are digging deep into two recent albums and doing an in-depth study of a band like no other. A band with guts, one with bravado, one that doesn’t care what people think and they do what they want. We could use more artists like that.
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