Monday, August 26

The Sound & the Fury


Sunday, July 7, 1996

Tori Amos invites her fans to lose, then find themselves in her
passion and pianoBy Kristin Fiore

Summer Bruin Senior Staff

Piano is no longer for pretty little girls in pink dresses.

For Tori Amos it is sometimes a battlefield, sometimes a lover,
but always a unique voice.

She throws her classical skills and eccentric instincts into a
musical pot, dipping in to create courageous and passionate songs
that translate even through the cold concrete aisles of the Greek
Theatre.

Accompanied only by a guitarist and one of her many instruments
­ a piano, a Bosendorfer, and the occasional organ ­ Amos
managed to collapse the space between her and her audience through
intimate songs, dynamic performances and flirtatious chatter.

The show seemed more like the smoky club gigs she did early in
her career, with the stark stage decor, sparse arrangements and
ribbons of smoke that curled into the night sky.

The atmosphere suited her pared-down material, most of which the
audience met with warm enthusiasm. The crowd was as excited about
the older material as it was the new, a pleasant surprise in a time
of fair-weather fans.

Amos played many songs from her debut album, "Little
Earthquakes," and omitted hits like "God" and "Crucify" in favor of
unusual picks like "Amazing Grace" and the a cappella "Me and a
Gun." Both were of the more memorable songs of the evening.

Amos asked an unsuspecting lone trumpeter in the woods behind
the theatre to join her in "Amazing Grace," though he unfortunately
chickened out. "Maybe he had to wipe a lip," offered Amos.

A few audience members chimed in at her request, though ­
"Sing this with me. Maybe it’ll give him the courage to play"
­ adding harmony to Amos’s ethereal voice.

For most of the evening, Amos’s voice was anything but ethereal.
She rendered a particularly venomous version of "Precious Things,"
squawking lines like "those demigods with their nine-inch nails and
little fascist panties tucked into the heart of every nice
girl."

During a gritty, drawn-out screech of the last word, Amos turned
away from the piano to claw her nails from her thighs up to her
chest. Such moments garnered raucous yells of worship and approval
from a crowd clearly commiserating with the pain and insecurities
of junior high.

Amos is known for her general physical flamboyance, often seen
as sexual. Her trademarks were ever-present this evening; she often
threw her head back, abandoning herself to overpowering jazz
chords, straddling her piano bench or ignoring it altogether.

She often preferred to stand, crouched over the piano like an
animal over its prey. Her command of the keys seeped like a
delicious infection into the crowd, who seemed like putty in her
hand.

This tour she has added a new maneuver, switching from piano to
Bosendorfer, sometimes in the same song.

The two instruments faced each other so one bench could service
both, and Amos spun with fickleness back and forth between the two.
At times she seemed like a child in a candy store, excitedly
sampling one, then the other.

"Caught a Light Sneeze," the biggest hit from her latest album,
"Boys for Pele," uses piano for the bridge and Bosendorfer for the
rest of the song. This is possibly the only song that did not live
up to the album version.

Without the hypnotic throbbing of the drums that are its
backbone, the song seemed to evaporate, powerless. Amos substituted
for the drums by slapping the piano wood, a technique that worked
well for other songs, but was too pale and weak for this one.

She also took liberties with the vocals to this and many other
songs.

Few wail and growl better than Amos, and fewer can do it on
key.

Amos took full advantage of what may be an expanding vocal
confidence or repertoire by extending, changing or omitting lines
for dramatic effect. Her lyrical ability is matched by her vocal
ability in evoking memories, passion, even discomfort.

The set covered all of these bases, ranging from "Horses," the
soft and wistful opening number, to the sultry "Little
Amsterdam."

Amos even tipped her hat to The Cure, covering "Lovesong," and
Bronski Beat, sliding into "Smalltown Boy" for a bit.

The diverse moods were enhanced by the simple, yet effective
set. A triangle projected onto the back wall of the stage flashed
everything from photos of M&Ms to film clips of war. Spinning
planes of green and violet lights accompanied the more boisterous
songs, while a sole red spotlight softly silhouetted Amos as she
sat at her organ for the tender "Hey Jupiter."

In addition to the set, Amos’s lack of pretenses let her music
take center stage. She could not have been more down to earth in
her jeans and plain white blouse, though she is often criticized by
detractors for being pretentious onstage.

She chatted with the crowd from time to time, as though the show
were a casual get-together in her living room. Wild raspberry or
orange hair, depending on the lighting, was all that could have
separated her from the crowd ­ until she started to play, of
course.

Her fearless honesty and fiery delivery were hard to match, and
she managed to do it without layers of electric guitars or a full
band. Despite the comeback of acoustic shows, touring on a large
scale with only a piano or organ and guitar is brave.

But Amos proved she can be as fierce as those with three times
the equipment and body piercings.

She returned for two encores, and received a well-deserved
standing ovation. Makes you sorry you quit those piano lessons,
doesn’t it?

Shawn Laksmi

Tori Amos plays the piano, one of the many instruments in her
repertoire, at a sound check before a recent performance at the
Greek Theatre.

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