Review: Amanda Palmer’s latest show is a tour de force

Chris Paul

For those uninitiated a quick explanation. Amanda Palmer, previously of the respectable punk duo Dresden Dolls, is an American singer-songwriter. She is almost as famous for being an independent artist as she is for her music.

This is because she liberated herself from the pernicious clasp of the the music industry by being the first musician to crowdfund a million dollars on the Kickstarter platform. She even made this Ted Talk about it that went viral too.

She is an early adopter with the raw talent to capitalise on being a) innovative, and b) thoroughly engaging.  She also happens to be married to a name probably more familiar to many UK audiences, the English writer Neil Gaiman. This is very much by-the-by however. Her spousal relations are purely incidental. Her work doesn’t just speak but roars for itself.

Amanda Palmer. Picture by Laquena (CC BY-SA 3.0).

All music is hybrid and a cocktail of tangled influences. For example, there’d be no Bob Dylan without woody Guthrie, and no American folk to speak of without the influence of the African and Celtic diasporas. Hence music journos and reviewers’ tendency overuse the word fusion.

So Palmer’s music is a fusion of  pop, avant, punk, and music hall. Think Tori Amos meets George Formby. Or maybe Michael Nyman meets Courtney Love. Lol. She is a one off. Her songs weave bittersweet anecdote with the heartfelt, often with a dash of irony and a sarcasm chaser.

Her new show, in the midst of it’s UK Tour, is not merely live music however. It blends the anecdotal and the lyrical, the emotional and the polemical. It splices storytelling and stand-up with the music to considerable emotional effect. Wait I’m laughing, wait I promise I’m not crying, wait I’m thinking. Subjects like abortion, sexual abuse, cancer, miscarriage, all get discussed in detail.

Creative

But she does give it all a comic balance, somehow. She even gives the crowd permission to call out “Amanda I’m too sad!” if it gets too much. Every review needs something that could be put on a poster so here goes: Amanda Palmer’s latest is an autobiographical tour de goddamn force for the #metoo and #repeal generation. Hopefully that is neither too hyperbolic or reductive.

It is noteworthy that the impact of the performance was enhanced by St David’s Hall’s pindrop acoustics and a creative use of lighting that cut a razor sharp silhouette.

Helpfully, Palmer signposts some of her conscious creative influences during the performance. The stand up Hannah Gadsby being one. The recent intricately personal performances of Nick Cave and Bruce Springsteen another.

This is indicative of a flip more widely in the art world. After the performance art overdose of the 1970s, the ‘everything is performance’ decade, there was a shift. Post-modernity, surface, play, and the superficial came to the fore.

But now the far right are rising and the social democratic and liberal wins of the post-war decades are under assault. Climate destruction is unfolding. In response speech acts are back on the agenda. We are so lonely and disoriented by it all that we need emotional honesty from our artists to help navigate the dysphoria. Not in a dumbed down nonintellectual way, but as ‘this is my truth now tell me yours’.

Amanda Palmer does this in spades – she teaches, but she reaches, and connects. Go see her show.

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