Friday, November 13, 2009

Abnormally attracted to Tori

There are few artists who I have come to know over the past few months who seem to divide the opinions of my friends more than does Tori Amos. There are some of my gay friends who would turn straight for her; some of my straight friends who would turn gay to avoid her.

I'm not quite sure why Tori's music provokes such passionate extremes. I've listened to quite a few of her albums now and, at least for me, there's little denying the wonderful originality of her voice - child-like and sweet one moment as she hovers in the stratosphere with her high, clean soprano; menacing and anguished the next moment, as she crawls along the ground in her gravel worn lower registers. It's a voice that changes its dress from vulnerable to strong, and from the purity of an innocent to the seductiveness of a femme fatale, and back and forth, and back and forth, line to line, bar to bar.

Nor is there much denying the richness and kaleidoscope variety of her backings - from the toy-like tingling of an upright piano here to the tribal excitement of primal drumbeats there.

But I can see, too, how these albums, often very elaborate in the way they build themes into concepts that shape and define the album; and often extremely polished in the way they are produced, is not what everyone looks for in music - music that is planned and crafted like a symphony, an opera even, rather than spontaneous and rough around the edges, like someone pouring out their guts with a guitar and a bottle of bourbon in the garage.

So naturally I was curious to see just what Tori Amos would do, left to her own devices, on stage in front of a live audience. And last night, at Melbourne's Regent Theatre, where Tori was giving one instalment of her Abnormally Attracted to Sin tour of Australia, I got to see what a phenomenal talent this artist really is. It was an incredible performance, and an incredibly generous one too. Singing an uninterrupted string of songs for nearly two hours, with one hand bashing gutsy rhythms out of the piano while the other hand coaxed sensuous melodies out of the organ, her voice roaming across all its registers, with never even a hint of getting tired, she had her audience captivated, where even cheering the opening bars of a new song, or applauding its almost invariably jaw-dropping end, seemed a bit of an affront, even if it intruded only for a second or two on the music. She made those two instruments sound like an orchestra, where, even playing both together, the music lines had the sort of richness and complexity that found you looking to see if there really were just fiver fingers on each of those hands.

While the tour is marketed as a promotion of her Abnormally Attracted to Sin album, she in fact navigated pretty well her entire output throughout the evening, as well as including some terrific covers – perhaps the best of which was her heart-wrenchingly passionate version of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.

It was a great survey of a career that has had a foot in both the popular and the alternative music camps, without compromising either and yet, ironically, perhaps for that very reason, managing to make enemies in both. It’s a shame, because Tori Amos is clearly an artist who stands in a very unique place on the modern music terrain.

1 comment:

  1. For some one new to Tori you have provided an amazing assessment of her voice, musical ablity and song writing styles. Being a fan of Tori for well over 10 years I can only say thank you so very much for such an eloquent description of her and her music.
    The concert was fantastic, almost 2 hours of being held in rapture of her performance. My only wish it could have lasted for longer, not that it was a short performance by any means, just that I did not want it to end.