Photo credit: Paulina Otylie Surys
Royal Albert Hall, London
Wednesday 4th October, 2017
I remember how I discovered Tori Amos. A friend had tried to introduce me to Kate Bush, and while I’d loved the first half of Hounds of Love, I hadn’t got into The Ninth Wave. He suggested Tori’s first album, Little Earthquakes. I bought it after work one day and started listening to the CD on my bus home. I missed my stop.
It’s fair to say that Tori Amos’ voice is an acquired taste, but once you’ve got it you’re hooked in. This gig in support of her new album, Native Invader, was my fourth, and the second time I’ve seen her in the Albert Hall, but in one important way it felt like a first. When I’ve previously seen her she has always had a full band with her, but on this tour she appears alone, with just her Bosendorfer piano, her keyboards and the occasional pre-recorded rhythm track. As with all her shows, the evening was divided into several distinct acts, differentiated by the background on the screen behind here. The two main sections could be described as Fire (a forest fire on the display) and Ice (a mountainous snowscape), broken up by the ‘Fake Muse Network‘ section of cover versions.
The opening section, while full of crowdpleasers, leaned on deeper cuts rather than the songs that more casual Tori listeners would know. I i e e e kicked off the atmospheric opening set, followed by Little Earthquakes‘ powerful title track though perhaps the biggest treats of this section were two older tracks I had never heard live before. Pancake from Scarlet’s Walk (here played with elements from Mary’s Eyes and Ohio) is a personal favourite, while To Venus And Back‘s Josephine got under my skin in this setting more than it ever had on the album.
For me, Tori Amos’ music is always at its most affecting when it is simply her piano and her voice. The Fake Muse section of the show was introduced by Tori saying she was going to play some covers for musicians we have lost. The opening medley was effective when she was playing Fleetwood Mac’s Silver Springs, but when she broke into the verses of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ (she never played the chorus) there clearly weren’t many dry eyes in the house. For me the next cover, of Joni Mitchell’s River, was even more affecting. It has a similar feel for me to Tori’s own Winter, and it fits her voice beautifully. In this minimalist version, it made me cry.
As you would expect from a Tori Amos gig, the playing was exceptional. Not only is she a technically brilliant piano and keyboard player, but she has a signature style which, while it has added elements over the 26 years since the release of Little Earthquakes, still retains the same essential elements, from the crystalline vulnerability of Silent All These Years to the strident power of Precious Things, you can hear these things explored in different ways in later tracks. The third act of the show leaned more towards the more delicate moments. Reindeer King, a standout on Native Invader, opened this section in fine style, but it was the typically heart wrenching version of Silent All These Years, one of Amos’ first solo songs and still among her very best, that made the hairs on the backs of everyone’s necks stand up. The main show closed out with Bliss, the most high energy track of this third act providing a perfect lead in to a two song encore of Precious Things (whose signature line “So you can make me come, that doesn’t make you Jesus” drew a roar from the crowd) and an extended version of Scarlet’s Walk‘s lead single, A Sorta Fairytale.
It’s impossible to complain about this show. The playing was virtuosic, with Tori often hunched close to her Bosendorfer, as if pulling the notes out of it. Her voice has aged beautifully, gaining richness that adds to the older songs and the Royal Albert Hall’s incredible acoustics only added to the atmosphere. If there’s a negative it’s that I could have listened for much longer. At 16 songs and 90 minutes it was hardly a short show, but there was no Winter, no Cornflake Girl, no Sugar, no Cool On Your Island, no Playboy Mommy… you get the point, though if she’d played everything I’d wanted to hear we’d probably still be in the hall now.
PS: Obviously I now recognise The Ninth Wave for the masterpiece it is.
Review by Sam Inglis
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