“‘Cruel’ was always one of the favorite live songs, especially when we were recording…what ended up being the live disc on To Venus and Back,” Jon Evans recently told PopMatters. “It was a real exploration, a kind of super-aggressive take on the song. It started that way in the studio, but it definitely took on a life of its own live. I know I used to break strings all the time on that song, because it was such an epic venting. The studio version is three and a half minutes or so and the live version was generally seven or eight minutes long. We’d have these long, drawn-out sections where she would improvise vocally and we would just try to keep building and building until she cued us. Which is also a really great thing about that, playing with Tori as opposed to so many people who are, say, pop singers, or in the rock world where everything is so scripted, with her there’s always a ton of improvisation. They never turn into hippy jams, but where there’s room to explore, she has always very comfortable doing that and letting things go where they need to go, knowing that we would be paying attention so when there’s a subtle queue we could get back to where we needed to be.”
The videos below illustrate the versatility of the song “Cruel”, which first appeared on from the choirgirl hotel (1998). While Tori’s live version from the same year is the stuff of legend, perhaps the most ferocious incarnation of “Cruel” came in 2007 when Tori roared lived onstage as the character Pip during the American Doll Posse tour. Stepping away from the piano in character pushed Tori in a way that changed the song into something tougher than ever, something more dangerous. Her howling soprano rants in the song’s bridge are bone-chilling. “It’s full-on agro-noise,” said Matt Chamberlain. “That’s the kind of Tori I’ve always been attracted to: the noise part. Before I started playing with her professionally, I really liked “God” because it had all of that noisy guitar stuff in it.” In 2011, “Cruel” underwent yet another re-imagining, this time with the “noise” provided by the Apollon Musagete Quartett. Refined, elegant, yet still every bit as deadly as its 2007 cousin, this version of the song was more black widow than panther. “I saw her last show in LA with the quartet and I feel that it was the best realization of her music that I’ve seen recreated live,” said Eric Rosse. “It was really captivating. The arrangements that John Philip Shenale put together were great, and the players were really amazing. It seemed to be the clearest translation of what she’s been trying to do with her music yet.”
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.