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Amanda PalmerAmanda Palmer
Polly Scattergood
Union Chapel , London
Saturday September 12 2009

 

 

 

 

The Union Chapel is a riot of Victorian gothic architecture. It's all wrought iron and old oak, filigree stonework and no-nonsense red brick in here. I dare say the 19th century ecclesiastical architects didn't anticipate that their baroque house of worship would, a century or so on, play host to the Devil's music, but Old Nick is certainly packing 'em in tonight - with a little help from Amanda Palmer.

If there's such a thing as compulsive gigging syndrome, I think Amanda Palmer must surely have it. The promotional tour for her solo album wrapped up a while back, but she's still travelling, still zig-zagging from place to place and show to show. Right now she's in London, and right now she's in the Union Chapel - backstage, probably, doing whatever pianists do before they go on stage (finger exercises? Yoga? Slugging back a bottle of Jack Daniels?). Out front, the assembled congregation awaits her arrrival - and pays attention to our support act tonight, Polly Scattergood.

Winsome and befeathered (she still hasn't managed to shake off that pink flamingo that alighted on her shoulder at the 1234 Festival a couple of months ago) Polly Scattergood's whimsical, chimerical persona fortunately never strays into mere kookiness. She might, at times, come on like a rock 'n' roll Polly Scattergoodversion of Luna Lovegood, but there's an edge to her songs which ensures that even at her most flighty, her musical feet stay on the ground. Her vocals may at times take on the capricious lightness of a summer breeze, but she can put a certain gritty power in there, too. In any case, her band packs enough punch to create some sonic thunderclouds. If all of that seems like a collection of contradictions - well, yes, perhaps so. But those contradictions are why I rather like Polly Scattergood.

Last time I saw Amanda Palmer, she was surrounded by a collection of punk surrealists called the Danger Ensemble, and her show was an extravaganza of strange theatre. Tonight, there are no punks and no surrealists. This is, dare I say it, Amanda Palmer in serious mode. Not that her previous show was mere frivolity, and not that she's entirely po-faced tonight. But there's a sense that this is a rather more formal occasion. We are, after all, in church.

As if to set a suitable mood, the first song is an unacompanied rendition of 'The Wind That Shakes The Barley' - delivered from the very lip of the stage, off-mic, and with a sense of stark emotion that silences the audience during the song, and provokes a vast outpouring of applause after it. Well, that's us told, then, isn't it.

But then it's into the set proper. Amanda gives her keyboard plenty of welly, releases the brakes on her rollercoaster, and hurls herself headlong into her own songs and Dresden Dolls songs alike, giving it loads in every one. 'Bank Of Boston Beauty Queen', 'Look Mummy No Hands', 'Runs In The Family' - she pitches the emotion-level instinctively right each time, and somehow welds a diverse selection of material into a cohesive whole.

I'm hard pressed to think of any other artist who could, without the slightest sense of contrivance, include in a single set both a fragment of Bach and Derek And Clive's splendidly profane hymn 'Jump' ('Laugh? We nearly shat!') - on which, incidentally, the words are recited deadpan by a very sporting Neil Gaiman, who probably shouldn't give up the day job.

  Amanda Palmer / Neil Gaiman / Polly Scattergood  

Amanda takes questions from the audience - who seem equally interested in who Amanda Palmer is, as in what Amanda Palmer does. Polly Scattergood appears, up in the gods, for a long-distance duet on the psychedelic children's song 'Puff The Magic Dragon', while the rattling, humourous teen rape anthem 'Oasis' sets the pews upon a roar. And, incidentally, who but Amanda Palmer could write a rattling, humourous teen rape anthem?

The show is bookended by another off-mic solo: Tori Amos' 'Me And A Gun', and although it's a curious thing that a songwriter with such a substantial catalogue should perform so many covers, Amanda Palmer makes them all her own. That was a great gig - all the way from impetuous to introspective and back again, and all played with a certain exuberant verve. The Union Chapel certainly saw some baroque 'n' roll tonight.

 

Essential Links:

Amanda Palmer: Website | MySpace
Polly Scattergood: Website
| MySpace

 

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