Amanda Palmer at The Academy | Review
It’s the final day of an extended Amanda Palmer European tour, and she’s clearly in the mood to celebrate. Having spent the day touring radio stations and strumming her ukulele from atop a statue outside a women’s health clinic, she’s a lunging bundle of smiles by the time she turns out on The Academy stage. And what an impact she makes.
Palmer’s one of those people it’s impossible to come across without forming a fairly polarized opinion. The early, ukulele portion of her set sees the New Yorker perform in the style of a pub gig, her music laced with as much crowd banter as music, and the set list made up on the spot. There’s ‘Yellow Submarine’ on ukulele, a surreally brilliant rendition of NWA’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’ complete with a smartphone teleprompter from an awkward looking audience member, and the crudely wonderful vaginal references of Map Of Tasmania. It’s highly unpolished, which is refreshing, and the quality of the ukulele play is hardly likely to inspire taking up the instrument, but Palmer’s nothing if not a lyrical knife to the heart.
The best early example comes in a new song. Having stuck to full on comic banter mode for the opening few tracks, Palmer’s suddenly into analysis mode, adding to her Daily Mail retort (seemingly a one off in live terms) with another new track “that makes me want to fucking die”, about a French fan writing to her after being raped by his father, and asking her how she keeps going. It’s used to put Palmer’s life in context: she admits that had her deceased brother known the bitterness media attention would draw from her, he might not be as proud. The French kid has become a point of contrast next to Palmer’s life, and the result is gentle, subtle, haunting and quite incredibly moving. It’s also one of only three new songs Palmer’s written in two years.
Soon afterwards the Grand Theft Orchestra finally make their appearance, and while the wonderfully foul-mouthed pub-banter takes more of a back seat – only to return when Palmer takes a mid-set bathroom break – with the more polished material delivered with texture and verve. Lost is boisterous, and lent some serious soulfulness through its dedication to an interviewer earlier in the day who’d suffered bereavement. Bed Song is still craftier live, seemingly applicable to every failed relationship, and Trout Heart Replica rocks, delivered complete with the gory humour of the back story, a fish heart that continued to beat once removed from the body.
The Killing Type is another high. Backed by a locally recruited orchestra, that pitchy chorus is exceptional, and the song’s heady, soaring background adds real depth, especially in the screaming I’m Saying It Now retort from a riotous audience. You can almost picture the blood from that video splattering across the stage.
Oasis though, offers the evening’s greatest talking point. Palmer introduces the track by talking about playing it at her ‘ninja gig’ earlier in the day, where she asked a few locals about the legitimacy of the local women’s centre. She goes on to talk about the right wing American groups that set up false abortion centres in order to attempt to influence vulnerable women. At the time, it seems Palmer’s unaware of the debate surrounding the topic in Ireland (the following day, she’s told of it and tweets a lot of pro-choice support), but even the mention results in a division in the room: a majority who loudly agree with her, and a very sour faced minority searing in the corner. The song, incidentally, is an emotive (if overshadowed) highlight, containing the apt line “When I got my abortion, I brought along my boyfriend, we got there an hour before the appointment, and outside the building were all these annoying fundamentalist Christians, we tried to ignore them”. The abortion in question, incidentally, is expressly the result of rape.
Palmer, then, never fails to stir the pot a little, even when she doesn’t intend it. The overall effect is both magical and slightly confusing. Palmer’s not the greatest technical musician: the obscure Bostonian cover song she chooses as a closer, for example, she confesses is unrehearsed, and takes several attempts to get through the intro. The vocals, when they do come, seem just a touch outside the singers natural range, and for all its crowd-enhanced, sing-along emotion, it’s a flat finish. Then again, Palmer is impossible not to feel for, and relate to. She sees the world through the eyes of a true artist, and the sense of the unpredictable surrounding her show, combined with stories drawing meaning from the obviously meaningful but also the hugely unprofound are an enchanting way of looking at life.
She hits on issues, douses her set in a liberal philosophy that sits well with her young audience, and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. But we knew that already. As a first timer seeing Palmer live, what surprises most is how strong her musical tone changes are, and how well she makes that slightly shambolic approach to live music work. There are plenty of polished turds out there, and this is quite the opposite. Palmer would be the first to admit she’s not perfect, but she’s real, relatable and just slightly unprepared. It’s not always a chain of unrelenting fabulousness, but it is – more importantly – moving, and it’s very difficult to look away.
Amanda Palmer Photo Gallery
Photos: Debbie Hickey