PopMatters: “Precious Things” has been re-worked so many times over the years and yet it is still so potent. How do you approach that song, so indigenous to Little Earthquakes, some 20 years later?
Tori Amos: It seemed to me that we had to retain the energy that we had in 1992, but we had to infuse this energy in a different way. What orchestras can do with their dynamics is unbelievable, and they can get very powerful, and make you feel as if Russians are coming over the ice in the distance—millions of them. Philly and I were talking and we said, “This has to be Prokovief, no question, and that’s where were we have to take it.” During this process, Philly and I talk every day, and then he goes off in his genius mind and checks back in. Then he makes a demo of it and we discuss it again and if there are changes, there are changes. We thought “Precious Things” had to be included [on Gold Dust] if you are going to talk about 20 years. That song had to come, but it needed a complete wardrobe change. And yet the soul of her had to stay. She had to have her soul and her intensity.
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Possibly the most performed song of Amos’ career (feel free to scour the internet, do some counting and get back to us), “Precious Things,” from its chilling rainfall of an intro to its explosive, pulse-pounding bridge—you know the one—still manages to inspire giddy enthusiasm from crowds, which unfailingly inspires Tori to perform it each time as though it could be the last time.
While her early-career performances of the song are notable for being alternately searing and playful—it isn’t uncommon to revisit those shows and see Amos smirking at her crowd during some of the more unnerving lyrics—the song morphed into something far more sinister and discomfiting during 1996’s Dew Drop Inn tour. Over the course of some 150 dates, “Precious” became more and more untamed and saw the birth of a new strand of Amos’ ever-diversifying style: affectionately classified by fans as “Demon Tori,” it marked the arrival of the difficult-to-listen-to animalistic growl that replaced the word “girl” and the impossible-not-to-watch clawing of her thighs en route to her crotch. Coupled with a child-voiced Amos whispering “Wash me clean, Daddy” before barking the song to a close, these performances are, simply put, legendary. In 1998, the reinvention of the song with a band was favorably received, retaining all of its solo fire (and crotch grabbing) and gaining major percussive power. After closely following that arrangement for the better part of a decade, a more stately and wizened Amos changed it up for her 2009 Sinful Attraction tour, calling to focus a new instrumental call-and-response with her band as she geared up for the bridge, brilliantly allowing both artist and audience to breathe in a few moments of calm all knew would not last long. And in its most recent incarnation, accompanied by the Apollon Musagete Quartett, Amos and her cohorts finally achieved the song’s cinematic potential, her piano back at the forefront and shrill, wayward string plucks and moans insidiously getting under the skin of the song better than any guitar ever could.
The three performances featured below serve as striking evidence that Amos nurtures rather than neglects her songs as they age, each successive performance expanding on the mythology and narrative of the world she’s created. Every time “Precious Things” find its way before an audience, Tori creates, and takes full advantage of, opportunities to realize the song’s ultimate purpose: looking back on the past, thorns and all, while defiantly pushing forward.