Gig Review by Adrienne Frances with Photography by Lee Allen

Tori Amos

Birmingham was the 6th date of the European leg of Tori’s ‘Unrepentant Geraldines’ tour, coinciding with the UK launch of her album of the same name. Pitched as being a return to ‘pop’ (which I confess had my toes curling), early reviews of this new release had been tentatively positive. Vocally, Tori is now at her strongest, combined with simpler tracks stripped of the experimentations, which turned many fans off over the past 5+ years. My expectations were high.

Tori Amos

Support was from Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou, a married couple whose delicate Irish melodies floated around the half-empty hall. Sharing the mic at all times, there was no question over their relationship status (did I mention they’re married?) but it quickly stopped being cute, and felt almost awkward, like at any moment Trevor might actually accidentally devour Hanna-Lou’s face. But they’re married, so it’s okay, right? I’m a prude. It was too much for me, whilst not even remotely sexual. A strange combination.

Tori Amos

I expect lazy comparisons will be made to Damien Rice and the lovely Lisa Hannigan, or possibly Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova but beyond the folky sound and Irish heritage, the similarities end. Whilst pleasant enough, there was something lacking, some kernel of passion stemming from darkness, some kind of hunger that was missing. Despite some interesting lyrics, there was no ache, and all we were offered were some well executed gentle plodding songs.

Tori Amos

Rumour had it ticket sales were not as strong as expected for the Birmingham date, and there were definite gaps in the audience which gradually filled me with an unexpected anxiety before the support had even finished their set. I’ve loved her for over 18 years, and my devotion has never wavered. I remember crowds rushing the stage, wanting to get as close to her as possible, being held rapturous in her presence, frenzied eyes clamped on the red-haired lady straddling the gap between piano and organ.  I wasn’t sure this show would be like this.  Where were all the ears with feet?  I miss the pigtails and fairy wands and massive queues at meet and greets.  Everyone I’ve truly loved through my formative years shared this passion, the waiting in the rain, the camaraderie.  Where were those people? Thankfully the venue filled rapidly after Trevor Moss and Hanna-Lou left the stage, and by the time Tori skipped on stage most gaps had been filled and any others obscured by the screaming standing ovation she received.

Tori Amos

Compared to previous years, Tori has changed the structure of her shows quite significantly. In years gone by, she would meander through her sets with storytelling between songs, and 37 encores at the end. Now her shows are much more structured, with allocated time slots for chatting, and one simple encore. Her shows used to be sprawling beasts, but now they feel like perfectly portion-controlled auditory adventures. With an ever-changing setlist made up in part from requests at her meet & greets, you won’t know what songs to expect, but you know you won’t get bored. I’d been keeping fingers crossed she’d play ‘Wild Way’ (my favourite track from the new album) but it hadn’t surfaced yet on the tour, so I tried not to get my hopes up.

Tori Amos

Parasol was crisp and slow, followed by Honey, which filled the Symphony Hall with a lofty rolling melancholy. It’s a deceptive venue that enables an intimate rapport with performers despite seating over 2200 people. I was instantly lost in Tori, her Bösendorfer and organ. Tear in Your Hand was beautiful. 1000 Oceans was beautiful. Her simple set and stark lighting changed to match and enhance each song. Mr Zebra was a pleasant surprise, and lifted the mood instantly with its playful speedy sound. Icicle was stark – made more so with brilliant shafts of white light framing her on stage, and falling down into the crowd.

AND THEN SHE PLAYED ‘WILD WAY’.

I’d like to say I made notes, but I didn’t. Instead, I burst into tears.

I don’t really understand the effect she has on me, or how it’s lasted this long, but clearly I am still in her thrall.

Tori Amos

Caught a Lite Sneeze was more wistful than previous versions which neatly led into her ‘Lizard Lounge’ segment – where she plays cover songs: “sometimes these girls just come to me, and she’s come tonight.” We were treated to Running to Stand Still (U2) and Circle Game (Joni Mitchell) which were both unfamiliar to me, but the crowd seemed pleased at her choice.

Tori Amos

Part 2 of her set began with Winter, and was followed by Playboy Mommy which unsurprisingly received massive cheers at the line ‘from here to Birmingham, I’ve got a few friends’ (I ignored the fact we were IN Birmingham, so if taken literally she’d really have very few friends!)

Tori Amos

New song Invisible Boy was another pleasant surprise, having not featured on the tour yet: “if it all goes wrong, we’ll just start again – that’s what we do!” She needn’t have worried – it was beautiful, and I could see clear influences from her time working on the ‘Light Princess’ – storytelling metaphors wrapped in modern fairy tales.

Tori Amos

Take to the Sky was energetic and sharp, as she clapped and smacked the Bösendorfer, interspersed with longer improvised sections making it heavier and more intense than the original. In the Springtime of his Voodoo felt different too – her delivery and emphasis shifted around the lines ‘he was going to show me spring’, with Tori being both coy and eager. It had never been one of my favourite tracks before, but just by shifting the emphasis, the whole meaning seemed to change and has made me want to revisit for more listens.

Tori AmosTori Amos

After jumping to her feet, and waving manically at the crowd, she skipped off stage – as hundreds of fans swarmed around the stage. The fans still care! They’re still as obsessed as I apparently am too! Phew! And yet here’s where my gushing fangirl notes end, because her encore was simply ODD.

Her choice to play Cornflake Girl did not surprise me at all, however what did surprise me was her choice to mostly mime along to a completely blatant backing track – but more than that, it was the original album version which she just went through the motions of playing along with. Admittedly I wasn’t one of the scrabbling fans stood under her feet, but from where I was sat it felt like she might not even have been singing live to it, and it was SO unusual and unlike her – there was no reason for her not to perform it live, as she has done hundreds and hundreds of times previously. She looked extremely pleased with herself throughout, and I suppose maybe she was tired, but IT WAS SO WEIRD. TORI DOESN’T MIME.

Tori Amos

Trouble’s Lament, the new single from the new album, followed – and again included a totally unnecessary backing track. It was very strange listening to her play piano with an invisible guitar accompaniment. This time it did sound like she was playing along and singing live, but she also seemed stiff and rigid – as though she had to really concentrate hard to get this new track right. There was none of this stilted energy with the other new tracks, so it again felt strange, and I felt cheated of experiencing her usual improvisational clicks, whirrs, and pauses. Thankfully she ended on Pretty Good Year, this time with no strange backing accompaniment and I was left with only a feeling of elation over experiencing her live once more.

Tori Amos

So I didn’t love the unnecessary strangeness of her encore, nor did I hugely connect with her covers, but everything else was beautiful and made me FEEL EMOTION. I love that she isn’t one easily digestible thing – she isn’t the angry woman, she isn’t the flowery feminine woman, she isn’t the victim, she isn’t the rebel. She’s defied such pigeonholes through her entire career to date, and consequently been labelled ‘weird’ – but I think time will show her to be one of the greatest contemporary pianists and songwriters of our time, and I am glad to still be wholeheartedly in love with her. Even if It means my reviews become even more rambling than usual.

(See the complete photo set on our Flick page)

One Response to “Tori Amos + Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou at The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 12th May 2014”

  1. Tori Daily – 16 mai 2014 – Tori Amos France Says:

    […] Tori Amos + Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou at The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 12th May 2014, une chronique du concert de Birmingham, avec là encore de très belles photos ! […]

Leave a Reply