Each character on the American Doll Posse tour is an extension of Tori Amos, and “Tori Amos” is also a character. (Confused yet? Imagine how her husband must feel.) As she does for every show, “Tori” appeared for the majority of each of the performances I attended. As usual, she brought unparalleled energy and the singular brand of showmanship that armies of bottle-blonde pop-tarts the world over sit up nights coveting.
Tori: After a winning band re-hash of “Professional Widow”, “Tori” came out to the pulsing strains of “Big Wheel”. Dressed in a multicolored, sequin-covered jumpsuit, green open-toed pumps (gotta report on my girl’s hot shoes!), and a bright orange “Tori” wig, Amos made clear that she was, in fact, playing a character. It’s an odd bit of distance that the artist has thrown into the show, especially when you consider that the majority of her career has been built on making a personal connection with fans who (perhaps unfairly) insist on total access to her personal life.
Many of these fans are similarly grousing about the artist’s glam re-envisioning. But when you’ve made a name selling a certain image to people who then, understandably, expect that they’ll always get “Tori” and her life experiences, you can expect some grumbling. This is where I think the genius of Amos’s “character” comes into play. By appearing as “Tori”, Amos is able to not only separate her different facets into a Posse, but also to separate her private life from her public persona: It goes deeper than just throwing on a wig and some rubber.
Tori’s set lists are typically thoughtful and all-encompassing (and really solid), pulling from hundreds of songs, but she has a habit of stacking staples at the end (“Precious Things”, “God”, and “Hey Jupiter” are generally found in the encores). It would be great to see her audience rewarded with a surprise or two at the end, instead of being able to predict the precise moment at which they can beat the crowd to the exits or the merchandise stand.
The best portion of the Albany set came after T & Bo (i.e., “Tori and her Bosendorfer”, the solo piano section of the show), with the trifecta of the brilliant “Virginia” (off of Scarlet’s Walk), “God” (from Under the Pink), and an explosive “Code Red” (a new American Doll Posse tune). Live, the last track assimilates you like the Borg. She played it at all three shows, and it just got better and better. The same was true of “Big Wheel”, the breezy romp in which Tori declares herself a “MILF”.
These tracks cooked with the help of new addition Dan Phelps, guitarist extraordinaire. Tori hasn’t toured with a guitarist since ’99, despite the fact that most of her albums since then have featured extensive guitar work. It’s a particularly nice touch to hear some of the Scarlet tracks with the extra layer. Thanks to Phelps and the rest of the band, From the Choirgirl Hotel’s “Black Dove (January)” was thunderous and bold, while The Beekeeper’s “Mother Revolution” was brought to full, bloody glory with bassist Jon Evans and drummer Matt Chamberlain accompanying Tori’s haunting, elegant organ work.
Boston brought out some more of Tori’s heavy hitters, including “A Sorta Fairytale”, “Hotel”, and the best version of “Space Dog” I have ever seen. In the latter, she began with a whispery verse over her organ and ended with a triumphantly engineered bridge and booming crescendo. It is perhaps Amos’ best song, and with each passing year, it gets better and better without losing one ounce of its potency and punch.
On both nights in Boston, the energy was palpable—Tori and the guys were clearly eating up the participant adoration. The kids had plenty to spare: people were dancing and jiving. Even Miss Massachusetts was in attendance, wearing her sash. I’ve been to innumerable Tori shows in my past, but these two had a special feeling absent from any other.
A singularly “Tori” phenomenon that has gone on for years, even at her solo piano shows, is the rushing of the stage at the end of the main set. It’s the same people, without fail, who run down to stand front and center every time. There is pushing, kicking, and other assorted physical and verbal abuse as well as a sea of flash photography. This is all done with the apparent blessing of Tori’s management, but it is a major, major distraction for the casual fan. Perhaps there’s another reason for the running this time around. Sadly, this tour had a “farewell” vibe—all of her singles are getting regular play, and, so far on the US leg, there haven’t been any gigantic surprises. But it seems that, with the advent of Tori’s latest venture, Legs & Boots, which gives fans the opportunity to buy MP3s of the shows mere hours after they end (complete with set list scans, artwork, and sound-checked songs), the tide may still turn.
But, since this very well might be the end of the story for awhile, Amos has decided to work overtime. For those familiar with her already stone-solid work ethic, this is an audacious prospect. Aside from just performing, doing press, and doing regular meet-and-greets with her peeps, Tori has also acquiesced to doing “VIP” mixers before every show. For the price of $150—which includes a seat in the first ten rows and a “Posse” gift bag—fans can interact even more with the singer-songwriter. Also included is a peek at her sound check. Amos has gained a reputation for being an artist whose fan base follows her everywhere, and she’s made an alternately shrewd or generous, depending on your perspective, move with these mixers. What is most interesting about this business end of things is that Amos seems to take it all in stride, never letting the stress or ugliness get to her. This extension of her role as an artist, along with the tour as a whole, make for a lesson in not pigeonholing women over 40. Amos is ready to play several roles, but none are conventional. Yes, she may be a mother, but that doesn’t mean she can’t scream her head off like a banshee and creep around on the floor. In our culture, we seem often to celebrate vapid young women who behave badly for no reason, which is why Tori (who has a cadre of good reasons) needs to be given more props for truly pushing the envelope.
While it is depressing for those of us who have followed her for years to hear her talk about the end of touring as we know it, this new phase holds many exciting prospects for Amos’s growth as an artist. All we can do is, in unison, wish Tori the best in her next venture. Enjoy your respite, Tori: you more than deserve a little R&R. Get some snacks, veg out, and watch some movies!