Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Famous Amos

July 18, 2009

Tori Amos in Los Angeles
Photo: mine 2009

Tori Amos arrived in Los Angeles this week on tour for her recently released recording, Abnormally Attracted to Sin. The appearance at the Greek Theater was not sold out, and the crowd seemed more subdued than you might expect for a Friday in July. But the crowd may have presaged the show that was to follow, which featured a stripped down ensemble around Amos with only a drummer and another player for bass or guitar accompaniment. Not that Amos needs a big band to rock if she wants to, but in keeping with the times this was a simple affair focused on Amos and her prodigious talent.

And that talent, particularly for melodic hooks and songwriting, has gotten her quite far considering that her entire career has been built on the shoulders of Kate Bush more or less. Even after almost two decades and more than 10 releases, hearing Amos brings Bush to mind from her vocal approach, to her penchant for idiosyncratic imagery. There is one noticeable difference though, Amos has been prolific with her recorded output giving her more than a modest amount of superb material to choose from for a two-hour plus performance. But much like her lyrics, pronunciation, and imagery, her set list can also be unexpected. Never really interested in a greatest hits approach to anything, Tori plays what Tori wants even if its not entirely clear how it fits together. Friday did, of course, feature many tracks from Abnormally Attracted to Sin but omitted the first radio single “Welcome to England” as well as the radio friendly “Maybe California.” The material from older recordings may also have left some fans frustrated from the lack of their particular favorite track. But then again, maybe not, considering most Amos fans adore her specifically for her independent streaks.

For me, my love of Amos stems from another of her commonalities with Kate Bush – a love of the theatrical and dramatic. She knows how to make an entrance. On Friday, she appeared in a Japanese-inspired large, draped white dress with black cape hemmed high in the front above her knees, but dragging on the floor in the back. She arrived at the keyboard and struck a wide leg stance rock and roll pose with her hands in the air with her back to the audience before diving into the performance. She is meticulous and relentless, tearing through one number after another with care and attention. She spoke only once to the audience to tell a brief background story which accompanies “Mary Jane” for Sin, a song about a mother’s lack of savvy about the commonly used slang term for cannabis her son uses in a request to hold a party at home in her absence. It’s never about Amos reaching out to draw her fans in. Instead it’s about her allowing glimpses into a private world that is never made explicit to her audience, and many of her fans are those drawn to that particular chase.

As a live act, Amos is particularly interesting in her ability to present engaging versions of songs that are usually heavily produced on her recordings. Structuring her songs around her own keyboard performances, allows for easy transitions into more stripped down formats. It was a solid and very enjoyable show. There are few performers around mining the same territory these days, so an evening with Tori Amos will always tend to stand out somewhat.


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