[17 February 2011]
Like many people, I became an Amanda Palmer fan after seeing her perform in concert. Her charming personality, visceral beauty, boundless enthusiasm, and willingness to take risks—not to mention her eagerness to do just about anything to please her audience—made her a difficult act to resist. Therefore, the fact that Palmer has just released a live album makes sense. Actually, the disc is not completely live; she has includes three studio tracks for reasons not exactly clear, but almost all of the songs on Goes Down Under have Australasian themes and concerns.
Of course, the term “down under” also suggests something a risqué, which is reified by her picture on the CD’s cover, wearing nothing but a pair of knit panties with the design of the New Zealand flag. Sexual teasing has always been part of Palmer’s persona, so perhaps it is no surprise that the first song features Palmer singing and playing the ukulele on the old Eddie Cantor chestnut “Makin’ Whoopee.” She does the song straight and lets the sly lyrics about love, marriage, and marital responsibilities speak for themselves. The live audience heartily approves. Palmer happily engages the crowd. A good time is had by all. This cycle repeats itself on all the live tracks, with different audiences in both Australia and New Zealand.
Yes, Palmer panders to her fans. She sings a self-penned song called “Australia” and one about the national dish “Vegemite” (as well as including a singalong to the Vegemite theme song, “We are Happy Little Vegemites”) to an Australian audience. And she also performs one called “New Zealand” to a Kiwi crowd. She knowingly banters with the audiences about local subjects.
Of course, Palmer takes things a bit far with “Map Of Tasmania”, which equates a woman’s pubic hair with the Australian island at the bottom of the continent because of their shared delta shape. Pandering is not always a bad thing. Pimping one’s self and music as a way of entertainment is a form of performance art with a long-honored tradition. Palmer has always been a performance artist who works with conceptual media. This remains true.
The studio cuts are integrated in the mix, so the listener just sort of falls into the tunes. She covers New Zealand songwriter Peter Jeffries’ somber “On An Unknown Beach” between two light and cheerful live tracks approximately half way through the disc, which keeps the album from getting too buoyant. “On An Unknown Beach”, somewhat reminiscent of the Australian post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach because of their bleak descriptions of desolation, provides a weighty counterbalance to frivolity.
But Palmer goes right back to having fun. The crowds at the live shows clearly enjoy themselves and make themselves vocal. Even on the last cut, when Palmer covers the legendary Aussie musician Nick Cave’s sneering “The Ship Song”, the Aussie audience goes wild (when she’s done after maintaining a respectful quiet throughout the performance). They are Amanda Palmer fans. They know what to expect and appreciate it when it is delivered. This disc may not attract those who have always found Palmer a bit affected and showy. She still is. But she clearly knows how to please an audience and understands the importance of more than just playing to the crowd.