Chatting to people queueing for the gig, we all agreed that explaining to friends what we were doing over the weekend was an impossible task. To those unfamiliar with Amanda Palmer it is difficult to convey how much more than the average gig her concerts tend to be. Event is a more appropriate word, as evidenced by the large number of elaborately garbed fans that made many of us feel horribly underdressed. On Saturday evening I saw amorous puppet replicas of Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, a mobile piano mounted upon a bizarre pedal-cycle contraption, and upon Amanda’s arrival, the top being set alight as she proceeded to play a flaming piano. Bear in mind this was all before we had even entered the venue. The photo gallery will give you some idea.
Musically her solo work is a logical progression post-Dresden Dolls. Her former band was already a stripped down two-piece affair (most arrangements were for piano, drums and vocals), describing their genre as “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”. Her solo work is arguably less Brechtian, but the punk cabaret and bare-bones sound remains in full force. It really lets the colourful wit of her sometimes playful, sometimes intense lyrics shine. Although the content of her songs may seem at odds with a church, the interior of the Union Chapel, with its gothic Victorian architecture, stunningly lit in blues and purples, was the perfect venue.
Polly Scattergood offered a good supporting set despite the limited material she has released so far. Most interesting to me was actually a stunningly honest unreleased song which suggests she has plenty more ground to cover in future albums. Amanda began both her main set and encore with a capella renditions that showcased how tightly impressive her voice can be, particularly in the emotionally charged cover of Tori Amos’ Me and a Gun. The rest of the set covered her solo album and several classic Dresden Dolls songs, as well as requests from the audience and even dipping into classical piano (mostly as a challenge to herself). All the while an artist was painting a large canvas at the back of the stage, the resulting artwork auctioned off at the end of the gig. Such was my enthralment with the entire night that I very nearly ended up spending £350 on it (it went for £450 in the end).
It was broken up by “Ask Amanda” segments, a Q&A via written questions dropped in a box before the gig. Her genial responses covered her experiences of the English and the unfairness of dating Neil Gaiman — catching up on each other’s careers meant she handed him 3 CDs to listen to, while he passed her two large boxes of his collected works. Speaking of Neil, he was travelling with her too and took on singing duties for a tongue-in-cheek “hymn” that contrasted comically with our surroundings as the entire audience broke into (slightly nervous) laughter. Her gigs inevitably feel like “Amanda and friends”, drawing in all the interesting creative people she has recently met. It is a testament to her generous spirit that her immediate desire is to share these talented individuals with her fans, and that is what makes her a beautiful person and her performances a joy to attend.