This past Sunday, Audrey and I went with a few friends to see Amanda Palmer. The show was fun and off the wall. The first opening act was Vermilion Lies, a very silly cabaret duo, almost vaudeville. After that was another band, The Builders and the Butchers, who were really great. They are somewhat Americana, (they remind me a lot of The Decemberists), and initially seemed somewhat out of place. Over their set, though, all their songs revealed an ominously morbid tone, which helped them fit right at home.
Opening acts have an interesting role in concerts. The opening act is primarily responsible for entertaining and riling up the audience so that they are enthused for the main show. As a result, there is an interesting aesthetic to the acts. They aren’t supposed to be the focus of the show, so there is a freedom to be eccentric and not perfect. Because they have to get the audience excited, opening acts tend to have a lot of participatory elements as well. Their lyrics tend to repeat and the audience is encouraged to sing along. In this way, the opening act is very dependent on the audience, but the main act is meant to stand on its own.
When the main act comes to stage, the performance shifts in nature. The audience moves from being participants to really being just the audience, and there is a pressure for the show to be more perfect and authentic. Amanda Palmer’s act was especially noteworthy in this regard because she was accompanied by The Danger Ensemble, who are an Australian performance troupe. They brought an entire theatrical dimension to her show, which converged and worked in a lot of ways.
The set itself had a bunch of songs from her new CD, as well as a few songs from the Dresden Dolls, as well as a few new surprises. I had been reading about her European tour and was sad not to see Zoe the Cellist, but we did have Lyndon Chester, who could play a mean fiddle. Watching Amanda play the keyboard was pretty remarkable in itself. She was never trained to read music, so she is self taught, and I could see all of that crazy obsessive emotion and energy pounding into the instrument. Without drums to support her, she practically played it percussively.
Audrey also got hugged by Mark of the Danger Ensemble during “We Have to Drive”. I’ve been looking photos, but haven’t been able to find one of her getting hugged yet. Just have to keep looking!
Edit: One omitted detail that I forgot about: There was an encore at the end of the show, where Amanda teamed up with both Vermillion Lies and The Builders and the Butchers to sing a couple of songs, a Bon Jovi cover (for donations to the Danger Ensemble) and then Leeds United. Afterwards, there was another encore, but it was a bit different this time. Amanda came back on stage alone with a ukelele, an out of tune ukelele, and sang Radiohead’s well known song, Creep.
This was a great moment because it totally subverted the idea of officiality in performance. Much of the audience had left at this point, leaving a large huddling mass near the center of the stage. We were all very much together, and we were all singing along. The instruments weren’t plugged into the speakers, there was no microphone, so it was just her and the audience together. All of us were necessary to make a sound, and we were all singing, not necessarily in tune, but we were all part of the song together.
I mentioned earlier that the main act of a concert usually works independently of the audience, but that notion was subverted in this last song. The voice of the audience was necessary for the song to have any volume, as was especially evident when she hit the high notes of the song and we couldn’t keep up. Briefly, the audience was quiet and it was just her singing alone. Vermillion Lies came back on and did some acapella rhythm for her, but that last moment was pretty incredible.
Also also: A couple got engaged during the “Ask Amanda” session. I can’t believe I forgot to mention that. It was very sweet.