Tori Amos live : ROYAL ALBERT HALL

So I love Tori Amos. Always have done, probably always will do. My love for her has been a little buried for her over the last few years I must confess, mainly due to several slightly bloated and uninspiring (not to say bad) albums (a view seemingly almost universally shared by her fanbase) – she has drifted a long way from her absolute creative (and incidentally commercial) peak of her first four albums “Little Earthquakes”, “Under The Pink”, “Boys For Pele” and the staggeringly amazing (and also probably her most cohesive work in my opinion) “From The Choirgirl Hotel”.

Anyway, recently I started dipping my toe back into the world of Tori Amos for the first time in years with the release of her new album “Night Of Hunters”, hailed by many as an approach to a return to form, or at least something a little more interesting and unexpected from Tori than her previous three albums (although “American Doll Posse” had a good if slightly direction-less stab at a new direction I must admit).

Following a few listens “Night Of Hunters” isn’t quite for me. Its an initially pretty impenetrable listen,  based on re-written classical pieces with some rather pious and (intentionally) near emotionless vocals from Tori (her 12 year-old daughter who also features on the album kind of steals the show vocal-wise on the album, with an unexpected snarling husky voice). Whilst the album definitely has merit – album opener “Shattering Sea” is beautiful for example, as is the perky “Jobs Coffin” and the epic “Star Whisperer” – its not quite what I want from a Tori Amos album at this point in my life.  It did however get me back listening to some prime Tori from the years gone by…the sort of stuff I used to absolutely saturate myself with (alongside Bjork) as an early teen

So thank you “Night Of Hunters” for directing me back to albums I used to love so much (and still do), it really was wonderful discovering them again (particularly her little discussed (fanbase aside) fifth album “To Venus And Back”, which is a delight).

My love for Tori reconfirmed, I decided to see whether she was touring at any point soon, seeing as despite being a HUGE FAN in my younger years, and still loving her today I have somehow never managed to see Tori Amos live. A quick google confirmed she was indeed playing live in London very soon…in about 3 days time in fact…in the Royal Albert Hall…and there were still tickets…and good seats still remaining! Needless to say I snapped a ticket up despite not knowing anybody that would be even vaguely interested in going, a date with myself and Tori Amos (in the Royal Albert Hall!) would be pretty awesome I decided.

One of the things that makes Tori Amos such a unique, and interesting live performer is that her setlists are never pre-determined. She usually makes them up on the day of the gig and never reveals them before she plays…no show is ever the same. She has such a huge overwhelming wealth of material to choose from her shows frequently feature tracks from all over her back catalogue…it really is not rare for her to play a show that features almost as many obscure tracks, fan faves and b-sides than it does singles proper or new material from the album the tour is promoting. The “Night Of Hunters” tour is obviously no different to any of her previous in terms of setlist, absoloutely ANYTHING can show up on the night, and judging by her previous shows on the tour so far – http://www.toriamos.com/tours/2011.html this tour is no different – quite a lot of rare tracks and fan faves have popped up all over the shop.

There are certain tracks that seem to be favourited by Tori for her tours however, and for the “Night Of Hunters” tour it seemed pretty likely that she was going to play “Shattering Sea”, “Nautical Twilight” and “Fearlessness” at the least from the “Night Of Hunters” album, and the likes of “Winter”, “Silent All These Years”, “Siren”, “Big Wheel”, “Mr Zebra”, “Cruel”, “Leather”, “Precious Things”, “Suede” and my absolute favourite “Spark” from her back catalogue, as these tracks seemed to be the most frequently occurring on her setlists, even if they weren’t all played every single night. So I had a good idea of what to go in expecting (and to be honest I was pretty freaking excited about the whole thing)

I have never seen a gig in the Royal Albert Hall before, and I am so pleased that Tori Amos was my first. What a special venue, what a special place to see somebody that had such a huge influence on my early life play live for the first time!

Tori absolutely did not disappoint. She really was amazing amazing live. Even nearing 50, she was vocally on point throughout, still sounding as vocally strong as she did on “Little Earthquakes” – female singers seem to adopt  “crow vocals” (Madonna) as they age, or just GIVE UP singing live altogether (Janet Jackson), but Tori still had it, all entirely.

Her show was backed by a string quartet that had played on the “Night Of Hunters” album, and they were just as much a part of the show as Tori adding drama and energy to the stage, and contributing to Tori’s own material, not just the “Night Of Hunters” tracks. They frequently used their instruments as percussion which was an inspired touch.

Tori hasn’t played the Royal Albert Hall since 1998, and with her being a self-confessed Anglophile I had an inkling that it was going to be a pretty special show.  She seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, and seemed to really enjoy surprising (and delighting) the crowd that were trying to second-guess her setlist, and then thriving off their rapturous applause when she played a song that pleased them.

The show was a little “Night Of Hunters” album heavy for me, with Tori playing 5 or 6 tracks off that album (more than most other shows), but going to a tour supporting the album in one of the biggest music sales markets, to be honest : WHAT DID I EXPECT. The full length (and largely instrumental) “Star Whisperer” from the album was performed, and was absolutely sublime.

However the show was also very “Little Earthquakes” and “Boys For Pele” heavy (a good thing in my book), the full setlist being -

Shattering Sea (Night Of Hunters)
Scarborough Fair (Cover)
Suede with Improv (To Venus And Back)
Velvet Revolution (B-Side)
Nautical Twilight (Night Of Hunters)
Leather (Little Earthquakes)
Beauty Queen – Horses (Boys For Pele)
Marianne (Boys For Pele)
Mr. Zebra (Boys For Pele)
Fearlessness (Night Of Hunters)
Cloud On My Tongue (Under The Pink)
Star Whisperer (Night Of Hunters)
Silent All These Years (Little Earthquakes)
Bells For Her (Under The Pink)
Way Down (Boys For Pele)
Hey Jupiter (Boys For Pele)
Your Ghost (Night Of Hunters)
Precious Things (Little Earthquakes)
Cruel (From The Choirgirl Hotel)

ENCORE #1

A Multitude Of Shades (String quartet own composition)
Winter (Little Earthquakes)

ENCORE #2

Smells Like Teen Spirit (Cover)
Siren (OST “Great Expectations”)
Big Wheel  (American Doll Posse)

The strengths of the show were definitely the tracks that had been worked especially for the tour alongside the string quartet. “Precious Things”, “Leather” and “Cruel” – none favourites of mine from their respective albums – all really came to life with dramatic light-shows, exciting new string arrangements and Tori writhering around on stage (particularly during “Cruel” which Tori started channelling  Blonde Ambition Madonna, getting all sexy on both pianos). They were all really wonderful.

My personal highlights were the set-list surprises though. Not quite huge surprises as all are staples of her live sets, but none performed frequent enough for me to realistically expect I would get them at the Royal Albert Hall show. The beautiful “Boys For Pele” album opener (and one of my all time favourite Tori tracks) “Beauty Queen/Horses” was one of the first tracks to absolutely raise the roof, and probably got one of the best reactions of the whole night. Just Tori and a piano and the whole place in the palm of her hand -

“Hey Jupiter”, another “Boys For Pele” track also appeared towards the end of the show, and was absolutely beautiful (to the point that I noticed the bouncer in our section had taken his eye off us and was watching Tori perform during the track). Pretty much spinechilling, and a bit of an unexpected moment. “Hey Jupiter” is a huge personal favourite, but I didn’t expect her to play “Beauty Queen/Horses” and “Hey Jupiter” in the same show.

and finally as her near penultimate track, she played her cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Nothing new in a Tori Amos live show, but following such a crowd-pleasing tracklist for the gig, to throw this in right at the end had the whole crowd going mental, and again had the entire hall completely transfixed. It was completely unexpected by myself, to the point where I involuntarily went “oh my gosh” under my breath when she dropped it. It really was a very special show, with a near-dream tracklist for somebody like myself who is not quite a Tori-loon (a Toriphile is how they are known) but a big Tori fan, particularly having never seen her live before.

I must mention the  Toriphiles, I had been warned previously about the mad rush to the front of the stage of a thousand gays crying their eyes out to a “1000 Oceans” encore, but never really believed it was true, certainly not in the partisan Britain – how wrong I was! As soon as Tori finished “Cruel” (the last track in her main set), almost the entire floor of the bottom section (the stalls?) of the Royal Albert Hall literally ran and pushed to the front when she did her last song before the encore and basically stood in a human pyramid at the front of the stage  all reaching out to her and basically all WEEPING in unison…it was kind of crazy, but pretty amazing that people get so loony about her. I had never seen anything like it, certainly not at a gig for an act like Tori Amos (particularly as this show was a borderline classical affair). It was kind of wonderful to watch, particularly as Tori then proceeded to whack out “Winter” – one of her most famous tracks – and a thousand loons in the front row started openly weeping and bawling their eyes out.

It really was a wonderful evening, and it really made me feel I had achieved something I probably should have achieved many years ago (but it all came good in the end seeing such an amazing gig, in such an amazing venue). My ONLY gripe (there is always a gripe), is that she didn’t perform one of my absolute favourites, and a track she has been performing regularly on this tour “Spark”.

“Spark” is a really special track, an absolute all-out anthem written about her miscarriage, and probably the biggest balls blazing pop song in her entire canon. Had she perfomed it as her  first encore tonight I think her crazy fans would have spontaneously combusted, and its a shame that she didn’t, as it doesn’t seem to be as big a live staple as some of her other tracks “Precious Things” for example, so I was excited to see it on rotation on this tour. But hey, maybe she will perform it next time…and there definitely will be a next time for me…I’m tempted to get a ticket for her next gig tomorrow night already even though it would lead me to financial ruin. I am definitely seeing her whenever she next tours from now until she stops, truly a live force in a league of her own.

Thanks Tori, for an awesome date with myself. Please play this live for me next time kthanksbye -

10 responses

  1. Anonymous

    Excellent review of a unforgettable gig. Merci!

    November 3, 2011 at 8:35 am

  2. Michael

    A great gig! The string quartet Apollon Musagete/ [http://www.apollon-musagete.com/] were amazing. It says a lot for Tori Amos that she chose them. The first violin in particular may just well be the best violinist I have ever seen; flawless technique but also the nous to employ it where it most counted.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    • Michael

      Oh and it was first time at the Royal Albert Hall too and I couldn’t agree with you more about the venue

      November 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm

  3. Anonymous

    I went to this and also thought it was amazing, I totally agree though the last three albums are nothing like what she did to get herself commercially successful! I think though in her recent albums which she speaks of putting more effort into writing, are ones that require research to understand in my opinion, the songs just don’t make any sense as to what she is referring to.

    November 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

  4. Anonymous

    Nice review thanks,looking forward to tomorrows gig at Manchester Appollo,Im a big fan but never seen her live,heres hoping.

    November 3, 2011 at 11:07 pm

  5. Helen

    I was there too and I couldn’t agree with your review more. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen Tori live about eight or nine times (including her ’98 performance at the R.A.H. and at the Glastonbury festival the same year I believe) and she never fails to surprise and delight. She is the best live performer I have ever seen and her voice is astonishingly good – crystal clear and as close to perfection as one could hope.
    I was delighted to hear ‘Mr Zebra’ and always find the unpredictability of her sets tremendously exciting and refreshing. I was relieved that she avoided singing ‘Me and a Gun’ as I always find it too distressing (for empathetic rather than personal reasons) and would like to think that she has exorcised such traumatic ‘ghosts’ of her past enough now and can move on.

    November 4, 2011 at 3:49 am

  6. Ian

    Hey, very good review. :) One correction though, Velvet Revolution isn’t a b-side. It’s one of the main tracks on American Doll Posse…

    And I hope you ended up going to the 2nd London show, because she did play Spark which I’ve been waiting to see live for many years!

    November 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    • notaparticularlygreatdancer

      Indeed, my mistake. I always confuse “Purple People” and “Velvet Revolution” in my mind I think with them both having a Prince connotation (I definitely connote both the words “Velvet” and “Purple” with Prince in my mind) “Purple People” of course being the b-side and “Velevet Revolution” being the album track, I always mix them up.

      Stupidly I didn’t go to the second gig! Something I am still kicking myself for (I even found not very good tickets online for £22 and decided against getting them for reasons now unknown to me, how stupid). The setlist (from memory) basically seemed to be all the other tracks she has been playing on the tour so far, but didn’t play at Royal Albert Hall (almost like the night was split into two halves), and it included the illusive “Spark”! So silly of me I didn’t go, probably going to have to wait another 18 months or so until Tori comes back around. Glad you liked my review!

      November 29, 2011 at 1:18 am

  7. Anonymous

    Have to agree with the review. She was brilliant and loved the string quartet as well. Amazing venue as well. I was sat in the second row and thought it was very bizarre and funny as well when all the people rushed to the stage at the end haha. She looked stunning as well a true star. Can’t wait to see her again. Allan.

    November 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm

  8. Anonymous

    You can download a bootleg of the concert from here http://www.sendspace.com/file/ak4269

    November 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm

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