London, 20th June
This really should have felt like more of an event. Amanda Palmer may have just revolutionised the independent music industry, this is her first U.K show promoting her Kickstarter backed new album, Theatre is Evil, with her expanded backing band, the Grand Theft Orchestra no less, and yet the last time I saw her, in September of last year when she wasn’t promoting anything except a long hiatus to make this new album, was twice the night this was. This will not go down well with her legions of devotees but tonight, compared to most Amanda Palmer performances, was lacklustre. In her defence the September show I’m comparing this to was one of the best gigs I’ve ever witnessed and anyone would have trouble topping it, but the sheer hype going into this show went curiously unjustified. That said, any set that opens with Do It With a Rock Star, closes with Astronaut followed by Leeds United with a live horn section and something like twenty-five people, including men in kilts and dresses, dancing like lunatics on stage could ever be considered a failure, could it?
Take it from me, any Amanda Palmer fan worth their salt would be fizzing about this show, her Kickstarter campaign has already passed into legend, passing one million dollars in just under a month and funding her first studio album proper since 2008’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer. The U.K has always had something of a passionate love affair with Palmer and that love should have been out in full force during opener Do It With a Rock Star, it’s stop start glam rock coming on like Joan Jett covering Bowie’s Let’s Dance and in general being one of the best things she’s ever done, but the capacity crowd seems a little reserved. Perhaps it’s because her backing band make the whole song ear-shatteringly loud and unquestionably the most overtly rawk-tacular thing she’s ever done, it really is a dramatic departure from what most in hear would be used to and it shows. The crowd are more static than usual, only really cutting lose during a plutonium powered run through of The Dresden Doll’s Girl Anachronism and the encore. Some people around me even seem to leave half-way through.
Personally I’d blame the set-list, any fair-weather Palmer fan would know that her relationship with her set-lists are distant at best but that’s usually not a problem. I’ve established that it’s an unfair comparison but September’s gig was easily as made up on the fly but it felt like a cohesive whole. It would be difficult to premier a bunch of new songs to any audience but going from three in a row to a Dresden Dolls classic to a Neil Gaiman sung cover of a Leon Payne song with duelling musical saws (which, at six minutes long, goes on for five minutes and fifty-nine seconds longer than it should) just doesn’t work. The songs are as great as they’ll ever be, the lesser spotted Half Jack especially sounding heart stoppingly good and the new songs themselves hit the mark, The Killing Type, Berlin and Want It back all heartily justifying the million dollar backing for the new album, but as good as they sound they don’t seem to fit together particularly well, not in this sequence anyway.
But in all, it was still Amanda Palmer, and that will be ten times better than most will ever achieve. When I say that this wasn’t up to her usual standards I don’t mean it was actively bad, far from it as parts of it were truly excellent, just that it wasn’t as staggeringly, transcendently good as the last time I saw her. And really, if we expected that much from all our favourite artists, we would constantly be sorely disappointed.