Review: Tori Amos live in Cape Town

2011-11-22 15:48
On Thursday night Cape Town hosted Tori Amos in the Grand Arena at Grandwest Casino in her first visit to the mother city, and to South Africa. Opening for her was homegrown one-man-band, Yoav, who wowed the audience with his impressive combination of stomp-box and guitar jamming. All of his effects were generated on-the-fly using his percussive guitar techniques to create the beat, which was then fed through the box to make a layered series of electronic loops. His urban-ethnic beats and wide vocal range, reminiscent of James Blunt's, were a welcome change from the usual rock openers. Yoav has garnered most of his success abroad but has charted in SA with his single, We Are All Dancing.

After the break, Tori Amos took to the stage and settled herself between an iconic grand piano and an electronic keyboard. She offered a brief few words before launching into her set. The opening song was Little Earthquakes, vintage Amos and one of my favourites. This was followed by Icicle, another hauntingly beautiful and poetic song. But by now I was confused. I had assumed I'd be hearing something completely different, like, for instance, the new album. My ticket said Night of Hunters so I thought that surely this should be the tour of the same name. Ja? Nah… The night's repertoire turned out instead to be a selection from several earlier albums (Scarlet's Walk, the aforementioned Little Earthquakes, etc.) but nary a hint of the classical pieces that inhabit her latest release Night of Hunters.

Amos' music projects the image of a young and disarmingly vulnerable woman-child, which is a challenging role even for an actual young woman-child. By the time she hit Hey Jupiter, her third or fourth song in, all possible doubts were allayed. The magnificently dissonant and ethereal voice found full throat and filled the auditorium completely. Her performance was, in fact, mesmerising. She had entered entirely into the role and exhibited a commanding control of every aspect. Her eyes glassed over and she gave herself to the music in a way which was not far from indecent, in the best and most artistically wholesome way. You see, listening to Tori Amos is an intimate affair. It's just this raw, beautiful voice whispering at you about her innermost feelings, or perhaps it's really about your innermost feelings. How do you reproduce that state of mind in front of a packed out auditorium? It's partly that sibilant voice, which seduces with such practised perfection. It's also partly her expression, projected and enlarged on big screens, which mimics the same emotions which she sings of so persuasively. However, sometimes the line between art and artifice is almost invisible.

The show concluded somewhat abruptly and Amos literally skittered offstage but she was soon recalled by a rowdy crowd eager to hear more. She obliged and returned to the piano for an encore. The mood, however, had changed and it seemed almost as if a spell had been broken. In place of the raw vulnerability of the main performance, we met a more feisty and engaged version of herself. No longer was there the sense that audience and performer were separated by bounded space, or by the constraints of the set-piece songs. She led with a rendition of Personal Jesus which was raunchy and crowd-pleasing. In fact, she went so far as to growl and pander to the audience where previously she had maintained a careful poise.

In the end, it mattered little that I didn’t get to hear the new songs. It was sheer bliss to hear the old stuff sung by a consummate master. If I have one criticism it's that Amos might have made greater efforts to interact with the audience. The liveliest part of the performance was where she set aside her stage persona and let her hair down a little.
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