[25 June 2014]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
There are few musicians who possess the kind of flexibility and dexterity to change their setlists from night to night as much as Tori Amos does. Amos’ 2014 Unrepentant Geraldines tour is reviving an extremely clever gimmick she first debuted in 2005 during her Original Sinsuality tour: “The Lizard Lounge”. This cheeky moniker references Amos’ time spent playing covers requested in bars, often for tips, in Washington DC and Los Angeles before she broke through to a mainstream audience, great acclaim and much success for playing her own original music.
For each show, Amos plays two new covers in the midsection. Whilst some of her more well-known covers such as the Cure’s “Love Song” or Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” do tend to repeat from time to time, there have been thrilling additions to her canon as of late: Conchita Wurst’s “Rise Like a Phoenix”, a Miley Cyrus & Sinead O’Connor Mashup “Rooting for My Baby/Three Babies”, and a downright righteous cover of t.A.T.u’s lesbian love anthem “Not Gonna Get Us” while in Moscow. The most fun thing about her current tour’s setlists is that really anything and everything can and will happen. All bets are off. We know she opened every European show with “Parasol” but that is where the consistency ends and the creativity rushes in.
PopMatters sat down and thought long and hard about the ten covers that would rock North America when she hits Vancouver British Columbia on July 16 and begins making her way across the US after playing a universally-lauded two months of playing overseas across Europe, Turkey and South Africa.
Though we’re pretty sure there would need to be 5,000 pieces of paper taped to her piano and keyboards in order for her to remember the words, the thought of Amos channeling an aggressive, male hip-hop song through her filter (like she did with Eminem‘s “97 Bonnie & Clyde and nearly did with Public Enemy‘s “Fear of a Black Planet”) and turning it into her own fire-breathing dragon on stage sounds thrilling. The flipping of genders could be a stroke of feminist genius. Plus, this song would speak to two things: 1. the fact that labeling her newest record Unrepentant Geraldines a “comeback” is anger-inducing and wrong and 2. Amos often refers to herself as “Mama” in song (“Unrepentant Geraldines” and “Big Wheel”) makes for symmetrical connective tissue from the cover to her own catalog. What about a mashup between LL’s song and the title track of Amos’ amazing new album?
Amos has sung about eating and body issues throughout her career on songs like “Jackie’s Strength” and “Girl Disappearing” so the lineage of her words and themes would be a good fit with the gospel dirge of the grandiose Arcade Fire song, at least continuity-wise. At the back end of Amos’ live show, right before the finale, there is a changeover where she brings out an organ, why not use it to cover something contemporary and well-regarded?
It is no secret that Amos is a huge fan of Tina Turner‘s voice. It is also not a secret that, on occasion, Amos likes to sauce it up and give her audiences a bit of sex and naughtiness (think of how she unleashed her inner “M-I-L-F” on “Big Wheel”, for example). With a strong, recognizable piano line and bawdy, lusty delivery Turner’s dancehall gal sizzler feels tailor-made for an Amos cover. “I want to make a million dollars, I want to live out by the sea” are lyrics that Amos might have written once upon a time before she actually recognized that dream.
In some ways reminiscent of a less thunderous, more soothing version of her gorgeous “Carbon” from 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk in structure and tone, Amos was allegedly going to tackle a version of this song for Strange Little Girls and it did not make the final cut. Love and loss perfectly played out in intimately hushed ones; Peter Murphy‘s mysterious, Goth-y, word-y ballad could be one of those once-in-a-lifetime live moments Amos is so known for.
With gorgeous high notes that would suit her voice (which is in immaculate shape on this tour), plus the song’s orchestration and multiple keyboard sounds that would give Amos many options for tinkering with the arrangement, Frank Ocean‘s serene track has infinite potential to be one of Amos’ signature covers. While the beat is simple enough and sensual enough, Amos has often excelled at stripping down her covers to the bare bones. Perhaps “Thinkin’ Bout You” might be best suited to a piano-only ballad? Now, if she chooses to do “Pyramids”, that’s another story altogether….
A song that could benefit from a backing track and Amos’ patented brand of playing the Bosendorfer with her right hand and a Rhodes keyboard with the left. With her cover of David Bowie‘s “After All” on Strange Little Girls and the occasional glam influence of the Thin White Duke found on songs like From the Choirgirl Hotel‘s “She’s Your Cocaine”, it feels like the time is right for her to possibly explore yet another Bowie classic, this time one with a piano-heavy specificity that fits, pun-intended, hand in hand with the Amos oeuvre.
One of Amos’ only true peers in terms of creativity, skill and raw talent, it is almost shocking that she has never covered one of PJ Harvey‘s tunes. Given her professed admiration for songs like “Beautiful Feeling”, acknowledgement of Harvey’s talent and career, a cover seems almost imminent, particularly since Amos has covered contemporaries such as Radiohead (“Karma Police”) and Bjork (“Hyperballad”, of which there is no known recording). Harvey must certainly be on Amos’ covers radar.
Why this cover has not happened yet is a mystery given the lyric’s affinity for shattered glass and broken hearts, both Amos staples. Also, with her predilection for the new wave hits of the 1980s such as A Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran”, Blondie’s “The Tide Is High” and Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” with specially-constructed backing tracks and two Eurythmics covers so far (“Sweet Dreams” and “Here Comes the Rain Again”) it is a safe bet US audiences will be getting some kind of synth-heavy pop from this glittery decade. Not to mention, Amos famously sung about the “Me” decade on her 1999 album To Venus and Back with “Glory of the 80s” and recently covered Berlin’s other mega-hit “Take My Breath Away” from Top Gun, beautifully.
After recently composing a successful musical, The Light Princess, and firmly immersing herself in this milieu, we’re willing to bet Amos has her finger tuned to the pulse of contemporary musical theater. Given the phenomenal success of the current Broadway revival of John Cameron Mitchell’s transgender punk rock passion play starring Neil Patrick Harris, this romantic song feels like a natural choice to cover when Amos plays a two-night stand in New York City August 12 and 13. A simple, gorgeously-written myth that would thematically stacked up against the glam pop of American Doll Posse, wigs and all! Obviously “Origin of Love”, “Sugar Daddy” or “Wig in a Box” are all perfectly acceptable substitutes, but “Wicked Little Town” is the song from Hedwig’s repertoire that feels most in line with Amos’.
There is a side of Amos that fans gleefully like to refer to as “Demon Tori”. This side can be seen in performances of songs like “Blood Roses” and “Cruel” and would eventually be manifested in the character of “Pip” during the American Doll Posse era. This song by Iggy and the Stooges perfectly suits this harder-edged rock and roll aspects of Tori’s musical persona, so much so it was rumored to have been considered for inclusion on her 2001 covers album Strange Little Girls, while the track “Heart of Gold”, an interpretation of Neil Young‘s classic, instead showcases a striking Stooges influence. Amos told us earlier this year that her daughter’s instructions to her, regarding this tour, were to “get out there and rock” and there is nothing more “rock” than Iggy and the Stooges.