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Amanda PalmerAmanda Palmer
Underworld, London
Sunday September 13 2009

 

 

 

 

 

A question for all you rock 'n' roll types. What do you do if you've just played two sell-out gigs in London? Go back to your lavish hotel suite and party with the groupies - or go home and put your feet up? If you're Amanda Palmer, you do neither. Instead, without even breaking stride, you play another gig.

Here we are in the Underworld at midnight, for Amanda Palmer's almost-secret, it's-a-crazy-idea-but-it-might-just-work, let's-do-the-show-right-here last minute afterthought gig. A gig shoved into her schedule immediately after her two 'official' London dates at the Union Chapel, with no publicity aside from a handful of announcements on the web - not least from Amanda Palmer herself, who can conjure an audience out of nowhere in seconds flat merely by mobilising her fans via Twitter.

Amanda PalmerThat phenomenon may tell you more about the loyalty of Amanda's fanbase than it does about modern communications - let's face it, if it was that easy to Tweet up an instant audience, every band on the block would be doing it.

But one way or another, the fans found out about this show, and the Underworld promptly sold out. And it was all done without the involvement of booking agents, record labels, management drones or any of the usual umpteen layers of music biz middle men who, over the years, have inserted themselves like insulation foam between artists and audiences. Tonight, Amanda Palmer has rendered the music biz obsolete. Before she even plays a note, I feel like applauding.

And then she plays a note. Quite a lot of notes, actually. Sitting at a borrowed keyboard (her own was taken ill at the last minute), accompanied intermittently by Una Palliser of the electric string quartet Siren on improvised, unrehearsed viola (Una plays a blinder, as it happens, especially on an extended 'Half Jack'), this is Amanda Palmer in informal, upbeat, mode, unconstrained by the usual ceremony of The Gig. There's no set list - just requests shouted from the audience, and Amanda's own spur of the moment ideas - and no particular time slot to fill, either. This one could go on all night.

With effervescent energy and only occasional bouts of amnesia (when she forgets the lyrics to 'The Time Has Come', a fan at the front helps out by holding up an iPhone with the lyrics on the screen) Amanda romps gleefully through her songbook, from Dresden Dolls showstoppers (Missed Me', 'Coin Operated Boy') her own solo smasheroonies- 'Ampersand', 'Guitar Hero' - and even the occasional cover, notably Radiohead's 'Fake Plastic Trees', in which the rather over-contrived angst of the original is replaced by an affectingly forlorn air and a ukelele.

  Amanda Palmer  

Costume changes take place live on stage, as Amanda struggles into random, and occasionally very ill-fitting, clothes thrown at her from the audience. That in itself is a small stroke of genius, for it instantly creates some real involvement for the crowd, while also presenting a challenge to the artist. Amanda has no way of knowing what outlandish gear she'll have to wear next. Not a stunt that any performer with an over-developed sense of their own dignity would try, that's for sure. Nose-in-the-air rock stars, look and learn. (The Ramones T-shirt gets my vote, by the way).

  Amanda Palmer  

Neil Gaiman is persuaded to take the stage and read to us from the Who Killed Amanda Palmer? book, but notwithstanding his warm reception it's Amanda's show all the way. Even when the stage is invaded by puppets for rollicking versions of 'Oasis' and 'Girl, Anachronism' (very much a 'now I've seen everything' moment for me) she is never upstaged.

After more than three hours, during which the show has never let up, curfew time finally rolls around. I confess I'm a little underwhelmed by Amanda's choice of encore - it's Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'. Personally, I feel that this song has been covered to death by too many artists in search of a quick route to instant cred and a few sensitivity points - neither of which Amanda Palmer requires, being well supplied with both already. The song itself has become devalued: Amanda's rendition does not salvage it for me. But then, the very last song, by special request of the venue manager, is another crash-and-bash through 'Oasis', an encapsulation of everything I like about Amanda Pamer in one glorious, barbed, witty, keyboard cavort.

Now that was a great gig, and all the better for being so utterly different from the usual rock 'n' roll go-around. I'll tell you this - it beats partying in a hotel room with groupies, that's for sure.

 

Amanda PalmerEssential Links:

Amanda Palmer: Website | MySpace

Una Palliser: Website | MySpace

For more photos from this gig, find Amanda Palmer by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, photos and construction by Michael Johnson.
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