To some it might seem a surprise to say I had never seen Amanda Palmer live before, or that I really only have one of her albums (and an early Dresden Dolls one at that The Dresden Dolls). It wouldn’t surprise them that I found out about her from her relationship with Neil Gaiman. However, that was the second of three unrelated segues that lead me to following and ultimately seeing her live at the Gasometer in Collingwood.
The first time I saw Amanda was on an ABC music quiz show – you know the one Spicks and Specs, or it may have been one of former (or current) DAAS members, Paul McDermott’s game show(s). Either way it was her wildness that caught me. I think she mounted the desk and may have gyrated at either Paul or Adam Hills or another contestant. She may even have played the ukulele, it didn’t matter. I thought she was a fun addition to the show or shows. She was a strange American, who was a little out there and while it burned in my memory, I never did anything more than notice if she reappeared on a show and I could make a mental note to watch it.
The second was the aforementioned inclusion of her name in Neil’s tweets, or his blog or whatever. At first it was passing interest, oh look an author I like is in a new relationship, isn’t that nice. It had no bearing on anything else until I worked out it was the same person who appeared on those shows. Small world hey!
The third time the universe sent me the message that maybe, maybe I should take more interest in Amanda was her book. The Art of Asking. By this stage I was following her on at least one form of Social Media – she was after all a significant person in Neil’s life and besides she posted more than he did and hey I thought she was fun. I had seen her journey in writing the book, at the least the one she displayed to the World via tweets or instagram images. I didn’t really think it was something I would be interested in – at this stage I didn’t even have The Dresden Dolls yet. But something about the idea of the book caught me.
Then my wife suggested I buy a book from Audible as she had a credit on the account (we share an account) and The Art of Asking was somewhere on the front page or a suggestion list or maybe I actually searched for it. Whatever lead me to it, I bought it and suddenly Amanda was my companion to my daily commute.
The Art of Asking is a bigger post than I want to write right now, I have touch on it before in 2014, and I will again I am sure.
So waiting in the intimate performance space that is the open courtyard of the Gasometer (it may be the dinning area in a normal day – I am not sure) I thought back to how I even ended up here, how I ended up buying tickets one night because of a tweet or post about the shows from Amanda. How I hadn’t even brushed up on any more of her music.
I was taking a gamble, it was a risk to come and see her show. Our nights out are limited and scarce. Not only do we need to budget for the cost of the thing, dinner drinks and all, but we need to include the cost and availability of a babysitting. It’s a big effort and one we usually have to move a lot to achieve. Yet here we were, a night out to see a show from a performer I knew was great but I didn’t have a strong connection to.
In saying that I have seen plenty of performers, bands and musicians I knew NOTHING about – like I literally knew not a single song! It wasn’t that it was the fact that a rare night out together with my wife was hanging on the fine string of we thought we would kinda like her show and music.
We were not disappointed.
From the moment Amanda appeared on the mezzanine level, equipped with her ukulele, as she mounted the railing/shelf propping herself against the wall and spoke, we were captured.
“I will do a request show” she announced. “Mostly because I am tired and thought this would be easier… of course I now have to remember songs that I don’t play often, so in hindsight this might be a harder show than usual” – or something to that affect.
Then she started with the first request, then moving around the mezzanine she sang Map of Tasmania, with her crotch perfectly place above ‘selfie guy’ – a more apt position could not have been planned. We joined in to support her vocals, “Oh my god…” you get it!
<Insert image from the selfie guy – IF I ever find it online… come on selfie guy post the damn image>
The she sang New Zealand basically above us on the stair way. It was marvellous and so good to be able to see her up close as she talked to us her audience. We truly felt par to of the show – it added to it that we were choosing the songs!
Moving some more she did her first cover Fake Plastic Trees, from Radiohead, it was such a great slow cover version. Added to the experience it was a song I really knew… Did I mention she was standing on a chair at this point – basically singing to the requester.
She went on to also cover Paul Kelly as one of her favourite Australian singer/songwriter.
It was after this she moved from the floor and joined her keyboard on stage, to become wired for sound.
It was at that moment I realised that she had been performing to this small crowd of about 100 with no amplification, not her voice or her ukulele. The crowd sang along (and I did to Fake Plastic Trees) but we were respectful of her voice. We didn’t drown out Amanda (even though there were only 100 or so of us, we could have), the crowd respected the artist and the artist respected us. Amanda walked though and amongst us, and through that brought us into the show. Not only in the requests but also by connecting with us, a glance, a smile or a leg over a railing to arc our head with her crotch. Her fearlessness was also a connection between us and her, the performance and the audience.
Once on the keyboard Amanda stepped it up a pace (or three) with some thundering songs like The Killing Type or Girl Anachronism. She still talked to us between songs, asking for requests, abandoning a few and discussing where the song came from or to stall for time as her mind dug up the chords or lyrics.
Amanda’s songs are stories, stories change over time, the author’s original intent adjusts, or the to reader (listener) own overlaid experiences. This show was very different to my usual gig experience. This was not an over produced cookie-cut show. This was raw, unique, an experience we shared with the audience.
One moment stands out where I stepped out of the hive mind and turned to Anji and I shared a knowing look. Amanda was singing A Mother’s Confession. I believe that almost every parent can relate to at least one or more of the incidents she sings about.
It was that kind of show.
I also remember thinking, especially when she did the couple of covers, about called out for a Cure song. I didn’t, I felt I didn’t deserve to over-rule the more die hard fans, the ones who knew all the lyrics or even the titles to the songs she was singing. However, it was right at the moment, the night was getting on, we needed to get back for the babysitter and I took a chance to go to the bathroom before the drive home. It was then, as I stood at the urinal, she spoke about one of her favourite bands and played the first few bars of Lovecats (here is a cover of In Between Days). My only blessing from that was that the venue was so small I heard everything perfectly clear in the bathroom, was wish I had called out for a Cure song instead of biting it back.
To sum up the show as a collaborative journey with lots of small eddies where you could be yourself, or step into your small tribe.
Amanda admits that she doesn’t necessarily write her songs in a firm structure – just a basic melody with some core chords that can ebb and flow. It certainly suits her, and to me at least from both the recorded versions I have listened to and the show I experienced last Thursday, it suits the experience that is Amanda Fucking Palmer.