Tori Amos could never be accused of playing it safe. Eschewing the rules of the three minute pop song, she has built a career out of making music on her own terms: unconventional, passionate and at times confronting. It was fitting then that she took to the stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre with her 2005 album opener, “Parasol”, which ponders the dangers of living cautiously like a figure in a painting that exists within the safety of a frame.
Appearing solo with only her grand piano and a keyboard (sometimes playing both at once), Amos showed no caution here. She threw herself entirely into the performance, baring her soul and living every lyric and musical note. Rocking sensually on her piano stool, she moved her audience through a vast range of emotions with unfailingly dramatic delivery: whispering, howling, slamming the lid of her piano, even flipping the bird. Never aloof from her audience, however, she exuded warmth at all times.
And while most artists take us down the safe path of touring to spruik a new release, Amos only offered up the haunting “Oysters” from her current album Unrepentant Geraldines. But in no way was this show a tired, by-the-numbers greatest hits affair.
For two hours Amos mined her extensive back-catalogue, presenting an enthralling mix of fan favourites and uncommon gems to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. Next to the likes of “Little Earthquakes” and “Cornflake Girl”, there were rarer numbers like “Etienne” (offering an uncommon glimpse into her eighties pre-solo career), a track from her classical music release, Night of Hunters, and the odd B-side.
In an age when tour set-lists are freely available online, Amos completely rebuilds her show every night, thereby re-establishing the genuine excitement of anticipation. There were spontaneous shouts of applause as song introductions were played, along with standing ovations as many came to a close. This was not the atmosphere you would expect at a seated gig in Adelaide on a Sunday night.
Over the years the songstress has amassed a loyal and passionate following, people who have been to Tori gigs before and keep coming back. It’s not hard to see why: there is a purity of performance here that would be hard to find anywhere else.
Over the years Amos has also proven to be an inventive interpreter of other people’s songs and at the mid-point the audience was treated to a couple of covers in the “Lizard Lounge” section of the show. A striking and powerful rendition of The Cure’s “Lovesong” was quite a revelation, followed up by the eponymous “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.
From an artist who specialises in haunting, intense compositions, the concert was an emotional experience. But the encore brought a new, upbeat energy with the audience on their feet, carried along by the fun of “Cornflake Girl” and Amos’ use of piano as percussion in “Take to the Sky”.
Hearing Tori Amos in live performance, the songs take on a new urgency; it is an entirely different dynamic to listening to her recordings. And while the absence of other instrumentation does result in some loss of sonic variety, there is an intimacy and potency here that makes this well worth the sacrifice. At 51 her voice and piano playing sound as beautiful and affecting as ever. Experiencing a Tori Amos gig should be on every music-lover’s bucket list.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor