Serious Tori Amos fans will no doubt have booked their tickets well in advance and are possibly even queuing outside the box office at this very moment to put in requests for their favourite songs.
But a word to those not sure whether Amos is quite their cup of Rooibos, or those who just don’t know much about the flame-haired pianist with her distinctive sound and complex lyrics: you should strongly consider purchasing a ticket anyway. I was until recently in the ‘vaguely aware of her’ camp (we’ve all heard Cornflake Girl right?) and I’ve just seen her perform in Jo’burg. I can tell you that her live performance is exceptional and I am more than a tiny bit converted.
As a sweetener to the deal, the lovely Durban-born Michael Lowman is the supporting act for Amos.
Lowman’s style could loosely be classed in the Bluesy Rock category and his earnest songs accompanied by acoustic guitar are certainly very easy on the ears. There’s a hint of John Mayer in his work, an impression further reinforced when he sang a cover of Mayer’s ‘Dear Marie’. Sweetly self-deprecating (“I’m going to sing you a song from my first album….well, my only album actually”) Lowman is clearly hugely in awe of Amos, but he held his own and elicited warm and enthusiastic audience response, especially when he closed with what he called his “cheesy pop song” ‘Girl Saves Boy’.
Amos then swirled onto stage in a lime green kimono, leather trousers and killer heels (it looked far better than it sounds) and there was an expectant hush as she readied to begin.
The opening strains to ‘Parasol’ were welcomed with whoops and cheers. I actually felt myself inexplicably lean forward in my seat as Amos began to play. She didn’t come up for air for two or three songs and when she did it was to say a polite and endearing “hello” – cue rapturous applause – before diving headlong back into her music. Her performance style is breathtakingly mercurial with musical and vocal arrangements veering seamlessly from breathless whisper, to operatic wail, to angsty roar. Her tone is alternately confessional, sexy, and other-worldly.
A little left-of-centre Amos is absolutely the antithesis to the manufactured, processed and styled bands that saturate the music market. She writes, sings and performs, often playing a keyboard with one hand and a grand piano with the other. Her lyrics take effort to decipher and even then some are still baffling. But if you take the time to decode her poems, her language is really rather beautiful and often very clever.
Although this tour is to promote her latest album, Unrepentant Geraldines, we only heard three of the songs, with the rest of the setlist – to the fans’ joy – dedicated to old favourites. Nonetheless the three we heard were tantalising: ‘Wild Way’ is just a gorgeous, gorgeous song and the live performance is even more nuanced than the recorded version. ‘Oysters’ had a slightly ethereal sound and we were lastly treated to the bittersweet ‘Wedding Day’, which has a merry Celtic undertow. The album itself is more accessible than some of Amos’s other works and is more than worth a listen.
Amos also covered Kate Bush’s ‘Running up that Hill’ and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, which were rousing and enormously well received. It was spot on with an added Amos operatic twist part way through
So many artists perform live and are somehow diminished. Without all the tweaks and perfections of the recording studio, favourite songs can often be less stirring, less satisfying than anticipated or even downright disappointing. Amos provides the exact opposite. Her performance is more gratifying even than the recorded version and with her theatrical body language she succeeds in conveying something above and beyond expectation.
Amos is the real-deal; she doesn’t need smoke, mirrors, fireworks and dance troupes to enthral. Instead, she weaves her own magic spell and ensnares you with her voice. Clearly consumed by and in her music, watching Amos live is to peek through the curtains and catch just a fleeting glimpse into her magical, whimsical, busy mind before she slips away back into her own world much like the Selkie in her eponymous track stealing back to the sea.
As live performers go, Tori Amos should be high on your list of must-sees. ‘Utterly brilliant’, ‘awesome’ and ‘mesmerising’ are not the naff gushy words I’m going to use to try and persuade you this is worthwhile: these were the words ricocheting around the audience at the end of the performance.
Utterly brilliant. Awesome. Mesmerising. Go!
Tori Amos will perform at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Sunday 29 June (6pm) and Monday 30 June (8pm) 2014, supported by Michael Lowman.