A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
February 29, 2012
I walked into Night 2 late. Well, walked in isn’t quite right. Due to a mix-up with restaurant hours, extensive walking and a particularly conversational dinner I didn’t end up checked into my new hostel until after the start of the show. Failing at catching a bus and having no trams headed the right way, I jogged the 4 km. Jogging is not something that should be done immediately after a filling dinner of Ethiopian food. It is also not something that is particularly enjoyable now that I’m smoking again. So when I arrived at the show 45 minutes late, sweaty, wet from the rain (oh yes, it was also raining), I was a bit out of breath, out of sorts, and somewhat wanting to collapse.
I arrived about halfway through the set, in time for the Amanda Palmer solo section. I’m not positive as to why this break is put in the middle. The band isn’t so high-energy that they should need a breather. Then again, I’m not sure where else this portion of the show would fit. The band has to come out strong with a rocking song to get the crowd stirred up (“Astronaut” and “Girl Anachronism” so far). They have to end strong (“Leeds United” both nights). If they want to play a slow and emotionally devastating keyboard song, it has to be as an energy break in the middle. Or the start of the encore, before the full band comes back out and finishes up strong.
The first song I heard when I arrived was “The Vegemite Song,” followed by a new piano and vocals song, featuring metaphors of fish in buckets. The lyrics seemed as though they should hook me but I wasn’t catching enough of them. The song itself seemed to last longer than it needed to, Amanda seemed to miss several notes (or I really don’t understand how intentionally angular and abrasive a couple parts are), and overall I just wasn’t feeling the song. To be fair to the piece, I was still acclimating to my place in the crowd and still feeling the acid coursing through my veins. On another night I might have loved the song. Fortunately I will have a chance to determine that.
When the band rejoined they launched into much of the same new material that they had the previous night. The setup being what it was I was impressed that they had changed out a couple songs and shifted the order of some around. I had honestly expected the same set twice.
Possibly not the best song to put immediately after the trout song was the one they launched into, the slide guitar number featuring the lines, “Throw me in the water, I want to be a bottom feeder.” Repeat imagery and common tunings (all songs on the album, minus one, are in the key of G) are expected when the material is written in bursts over a course of years. An idea sticks in your head and you want to be sure that you include it, only to realize when you put all the pieces together that you did so in spades. It happens. (I remember there being another repeated image that stuck out to me the first night, though I forget what it was.) The pitfall with the fish metaphor as used here is that both songs heavily rely on it and mashing them together makes it seem even more overdone.
The band seems to be very happy with their roles, or at least very confident in them. Michael joked around about learning the Australian accent, and he does have it down pretty well. Much better than I do after about 4 months. Amanda played off him well and bantered with the crowd about loving Melbourne, soliciting help and suggestions, and making jokes.* Chad added a bit of banter and heaps of energy in the songs, particularly thrashing around on – appropriately – “Guitar Hero.” Jherek added the cool older brother aspect without visible effort and without it looking like he was trying to look like it was effortless. They’ve come together well.**
They played through the next couple songs before bringing out the horns again. Solid energy. Solid delivery. The horns brought with them the same three songs. One featuring Palmer’s signature machine gun delivery of heavily emphasized short bursts of words over hard-hit notes that come together to form an assaulting song. One featuring both a) a great power horns section riff that has a hard-wire to the part of your brain that makes you want to go out and take on the day and b) a good scream along section near the end. And “Leeds United” featuring a dancing horns beat, crowd scream along, and a constant shift between quieter clarity and full volume energy. The last two songs, despite not sounding particularly similar, seem to have a similar set of key factors that make them work as individual pieces. Perhaps Amanda’s influences aren’t just external.
After nearly blowing her voice out last night, Amanda seemed much more in control of it tonight. There were no bits where it started to rasp like a speaker pushed just past its limits. What surprised me about it was that her voice seemed louder and more forceful tonight. Everything that she was doing intuitively seems like it should be more of a strain. There was just as much screaming. Overall she seemed to be working in a slightly lower range, with a more full and deep voice. She punched out the burst lines just as forcefully if not more. There were times during the set when her voice seemed to be evoking Joan Jett, all husky, strong, cool. It is as if her natural state is more punk than cabaret, more Jett than Yorke, and as she is embracing that, her body is responding by sticking along for the full journey.
They closed out the night with a one song encore – “Astronaut.” It is a lovely song; trademark Palmer. The lead-in is a smashed keys hook. The first part is quiet, almost spoken, with quiet backing abrasive noise. The build up. Slamming force in lyrical delivery. The release. The bridge. The return to quiet for the lyrical climax. The energy buildup and explosion again. End. The beauty of seeing a show two nights in a row is the nuances. On the first night they started with this one. The delivery was energetic and got the crowd swept up immediately. The notes were clean, the quiet parts tenderly delivered, and the complete package was the perfect realization of the album version given the new arrangement of instruments. On the second night they closed with it. The delivery was energetic and the crowd had been waiting for it, knowing it was their last chance to get their energy out. The notes were more forceful, the quiet parts had a ragged been-though-it-all quality that foreshadowed the crux of the song, and the band built up, collided, and came together to tear it all apart. The beautiful thing about the song, and the reason that it may now be my favorite piece by Amanda, is that it worked just as well both ways. Energetic kick-start or destructive full-rock breakdown. I would actually love to see a show bookended by it, to really feature just how much range can be put into the same work.
And like the astronaut burning up on reentry, just as quickly as the noise and fury dulled, all was over.
* I’m still impressed by her ability to ask the crowd for recommendations and have it feel like we are the lucky ones that might have our answers heard. Celebrity is a weird thing.
** After the show I got a chance to briefly interact with both Michael and Jherek. They both seem like genuinely nice guys. I really like it when the musicians I respect are people that I would respect as well.