Amanda Palmer & The GTO + Bitter Ruin + The Simple Pleasure + Jherek Bischoff @ The Institute, Birmingham, UK – 16 July 2013Posted by DB on Tuesday Jul 16, 2013 Under Pop, Pop-Punk, Punk, Punk-rock, Rock, Singer/Songwriter
Amanda Palmer is naked. Not literally, although she’s not averse to getting her kit off (as her recent Daily Mail baiting set in London amply demonstrated), nope Amanda Palmer’s nakedness this evening is more of the emotional kind. In fact whether it’s her lyrics, blog, occasional webcasts or spontaneous guerrilla gigs she’s possibly one of the most open and ‘genuine’ (whatever that word means in today’s all too superficial world) performers/human beings you’re ever likely to stumble across. Whilst Richey Manic famously carved the words ‘4 Real’ into his arm with a razor blade Palmer demonstrates her realness in rather less bloody, but equally striking ways (cut her in half and I reckon she’d have the words ‘4 Real’ running through her like a stick of rock) as tonight’s gloriously ramshackle (I mean this in the best sense of not really knowing what was going to happen next) show proved.
This honesty inspires some pretty devoted fans too and when she decided to go it alone without labels and all that jazz she swiftly raised an incredible record breaking (ironically) $1.2million via crowdfunding site Kickstarter. She’s not been immune from controversy (or, to put it more sensibly, pointless bitching on the intermess) though and a request for local musicians to play on this tour for “hugs and beer” blew up spectacularly when she was accused of failing to pay artist for their musical abilities when she’d just pocketed a fortune for hers. For the record I was on her side here. I’m guessing most Palmer fans would happily pay/give up a kidney to appear on stage with her but nevertheless she backed down and is now apparently paying cash money to anyone who joins her up there. I mention all this to give newcomers to the lovely Ms Palmer some idea of just who/what we’re dealing with here. Despite appearances a hell of a lot of artists simply play it safe these days, Palmer doesn’t and, whilst it all seems to have worked out pretty well for her, that takes balls…or ovaries…or whatever.
Anyway first up a trio of typically eclectic support acts (the last time I saw Amanda she had some burlesque dancers and Devotchka opening for her) kicking off with Jherek Bischoff (guitars and uke), The Simple Pleasure (electropop) and Bitter Ruin (feisty boy/girl duo). A proper review of any of these is pretty pointless as their presence was pretty fleeting (Bitter Ruin played just one song for instance) although various members showed up in Amanda’s band or during her set. Speaking of Ms Palmer she introduced all the acts herself, a nice touch and a good way to get the crowd behind them too. Unusually for support acts the audience actually listened. Yes I know, miraculous eh? This wasn’t a regular gig crowd though. Palmer’s audiences tend to be, let’s say, more colourful characters. They’re predominantly female too, eliminating that slightly testosterone filled air (or perhaps it’s just BO) that you often get at gigs.
In terms of the main show Palmer kicked off (literally) with Do It With A Rockstar, a primal scream of a track which sees her seemingly battling with the desire of music fans to get close (very close in this case) to their idols and in return the idol’s desire to be loved. It’s a theme that Palmer returns to during the show, notably in a speech about her addiction (I don’t think that’s too strong a word for it in this case) to the ‘net’, a rollercoaster of good and bad that…and this was one of those uncomfortable moments…she “wants to get off”. At the risk of this review turning into some kind of amateur therapy session…and if she does ever read this…I’d advise her to do just that. I’m not one for shouting out stuff at gigs but I had to bite my lip to stop from screaming “Do it! The internet’s NOT REAL”. Sadly most of us have fallen under its spell pretty quickly but answer me this question. How many of the people who leave nasty comments online would actually say such stuff in real life? Exactly. Think of the internet as a magical kingdom full of all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures, clearly that includes the odd troll or two. Well, millions of them in fact. More than most other artists Palmer seems to spend a hell of a lot of time there and there’s a nagging feeling in my head that it’s not doing her much good.
Anyway, back to the gig. It’s an explosive way to open a show and by the end Palmer was already a trifle moist. Rather than taking a breather though the band launched into a familiar riff…holy fuck it’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Palmer steps off the stage onto the barrier and is held aloft by the crowd then carried right to the back of the venue before vanishing into a pit of bodies. Extraordinary. Singers do the odd crowd surf if course but it’s often near the end of a show. Doing it at the start is a trifle unconventional. Happily she survives the ordeal and clambers back onstage sodden, hair dripping down her face and bra seemingly on the verge of making its escape (Note to The Daily Mail, relax…it stays in place…nipple outrage averted). The rest of the show’s a winning mix of old songs, new stuff, the odd cover (The Smiths Please Please Let Me Get What I Want and Pulp’s Common People) and chat. Palmer’s music clearly means a lot to her fans (an unusually high number passed the ‘knowing all the words to all the songs’ test) but perhaps not as much as Palmer the person. If she ever decides to jack in music I’m pretty sure she could happily carve out another career as a chat show host/life coach or therapist.
For a two hour gig a hell of a lot happened and recounting it all in dry, clinical detail kind of misses the point of it all. Trust me though, an Amanda Palmer gig is one of the most extraordinary musical happenings you’re ever likely to witness. Here are just four of the highlights though:
Bottomfeeder – wearing a shabby coat onto which had been sewn a long, wide train of fabric Palmer plunges gently off the barriers and, as she’s carried aloft, the train’s spread out covering (anointing?) the faithful. Strangely beautiful.
Map Of Tasmania – one woman’s homage to her hairy bush played on a uke. Beat that Mumford and Son. Palmer’s not one for shaving her lady bits…or indeed any part of her anatomy. It’s rare to see hairy female underarms in this country but Palmer sports a particularly fine pair of armpit barnets. Given the hot weather I’ve been carrying out my own observations amongst the female British public and the most I’ve spotted is the occasional spot of stubble. The revolution starts here…possibly. Anyway, it’s a surprisingly jaunty tune and any song that requires the audience to shout “Fuck it!” every few seconds has to be good.
Bigger On The Inside – this is a new song and during the intro Palmer freely admitted that her life’s been pretty shitty recently. The cynics out there would probably find this tricky to accept. After all $1.2million ain’t chicken feed and most artists would give their right nipple to have the kind of loyal fans that Palmer has. Of course, as already mentioned, Palmer takes criticism to heart, and clearly the slagging off that comes with the territory of fame has got to her of late. Add the illness of a close friend and mentor plus the odd email from fans seeking advice from her after suffering all kinds of abuse and trauma and perhaps it’s little wonder that she’s only written a mere two songs over the last year. The song itself is pretty painful to listen to, basically a stream of consciousness reflecting the last 12 months, she falters slightly at the end as a single but a distinct tear ploughs a lonely furrow down her sweat soaked face.
Smells Like Teen Spirit – this went down so well that the band did it again as the encore with, if anything, even more moshing than before. Reviewers often say that the crowd goes mental when, in reality, they do nothing of the sort. This evening they actually did go three shades of crazy, a flailing mass of eyeliner, piercings and glitter.
PS: Unable to quell the aging fanboy in me I hung around the back of the venue after the show with the teens hoping for a possible guerrilla gig or a chance to give her a hug. Despite clearly being knackered she did come out eventually and patiently signed stuff, posed for pictures and pressed the flesh. One girl burst into tears after meeting her and Amanda whispered something in her ear that seemed to help. This lead me to think once again that maybe she really is giving too much of herself and feeling a little uncomfortable about witnessing such an intimate moment I wandered off. Somehow the thought of me, a middle aged bloke with a silly moustache, taking up her time when clearly others need her so much more just didn’t feel right…
I’ll leave you with perhaps the most poignant and telling moments of the evening. After playing Bigger On The Inside and mulling over the ups and downs of life online she quietly (and with just the merest hint of desperation in her voice) uttered a few simple words that we could all do with remembering “I just want everyone to be nice”. Here’s hoping the twisted Palmer haters out there are listening too eh?