Music

Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines Tour - 14 August 2014

Tori Amos's recent performance at New York City's Beacon Theatre was simply spellbinding and quite possibly one of the best concerts in recent memory.

Tori Amos

Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines Tour 2014

City: New York
Venue: Beacon Theatre
Date: 2014-08-13

It has been a "Pretty Good Year" for both Tori Amos and her adoring fans. A critically acclaimed new album dropped earlier this spring and her recent tour has garnered accolades since it began. Amos's performance tonight at New York City's Beacon Theatre was simply spellbinding and quite possibly one of the best concerts in recent memory. One woman, one grand piano, an organ and a solitary synthesizer. Nothing more. Fully invested, emotionally nuanced, and displaying musicianship that still remains relatively peerless in the pop world, she plowed through a set list of obscure gems and classic favorites that felt like a personal gift to her fans. 

My God, that voice. It sounds infinitely better than it did when she was younger. The timbre is purer, possesses a wider spectrum of timbral colors, and seems healthier than ever before. Glottal strokes used to dominate her phrases, but her lines are now more legato, more beautifully sung and yet, she's learned how to distort and twist it into something that is also quite dark and ugly without ever injuring herself. Above all, she sounded vocally and artistically revitalized.

While there were occasional moments of languorous rubato to be heard on a few of the older songs such as "Icicle", "Winter" and "Pretty Good Year", its inclusion tonight somehow never detracted from the flow of the actual songs themselves. In past live concerts, that element led to performances that almost bordered on caricature, as if she were taking both her cryptic, poetic lyricism and her singer-songwriter persona way too seriously. Thankfully it didn't come across as artistically masterbatory on this outing. Instead, all three of those songs were stunningly executed and lovingly rendered, as if she hadn't sung them thousands of times before, yet was only now presenting them to the public.

Throughout the night, Amos looked radiant on the stage, covered head to toe in black with her trademark ginger hair cascading down her cheeks and ostentatious eyewear to boot. She looked refreshed, content and grateful to still be selling out such large venues after all these years. The enthusiastic audience at the Beacon was undeniably held within the palms of her hands from the moment she stepped upon the stage.

Tori is well known for her inventive interpretations of songs from other artists and tonight's covers were no exception. Many an artist has sung Radiohead's "Creep", but few have been able to capture the emptiness of the original or bring something new to the equation. Amos injected her fragile performance with a tinge of the macabre and the narrator of the song was now not only awkward on the surface, but also menacingly antisocial underneath it all. It took the song into territory that was both frightening and immensely sad.

Kudos to the lighting designer this evening, whose rhythmic light show during her encore performance of "Precious Things" was exhilarating in its faux simplicity. The multihued beams took on a personality of their own. Lights occasionally shot out onto the audience members, enveloping them as if they were actual hands, giving an illusion that they were a physical entity reaching out into the crowd. Perfectly emulating the mood of her songs, they seemed but a natural extension of Amos’s performances.

It would be an egregious crime to not mention the sound engineer as well. I have seen many concerts at the Beacon, from Goldfrapp accompanied by a full orchestra to Dead Can Dance and even Fiona Apple. The less that can be said about that disastrous concert the better. When the headliner is literally beating herself on stage, mumbling to no one in particular, shouting obscenities at the stage manager and is seemingly under the influence of something one cannot get over the counter, it doesn't make for a pleasant evening of music. The sound that evening was muddy and Apple was rarely heard above the mix. Tonight the piano was perfectly mic'd and Amos sounded as if she was singing in someone's living room, not an ornate performance hall. No consonant was unheard, everything was crystalline clear and there was an additional warmth to her sound that only a seasoned engineer could have coaxed out of a soundboard, microphones and speakers.

Opening with “Parasol” from 2005’s The Beekeeper, Amos stripped the sunny, glossy studio sheen from the track with a darker piano arrangement that seemed truer to the lyrics within. Looking up at a framed painting of a woman with a parasol, Amos receives a call from what one presumes is her unfaithful partner. The news of his betrayal forever changes her. These tales are often like little emotional snapshots, song cycles, or mini operas and tonight she strung them together in a way that relied less on coherency and more on wild card variety. The set bounced from B-sides like “Take to the Sky”, a song that borrowed a bridge from To Venus and Back’s “Datura”. to favorites from Boys to Pele, her first two solo records, and a few offerings from Scarlet’s Walk. Particularly stunning was her performance of “Black-Dove (January)” taken from her 1998 album From The Choirgirl Hotel. The piano is naturally a percussive instrument by default, but the way Amos banged upon it for rhythmic and emotional gravitas throughout the set was electrifying.

Her latest album Unrepentant Geraldines has been lauded by many a critic as a return to form for Amos, and the new material presented this evening was as artistically relevant as anything in her past catalog. Oddly enough, she played only a few tracks from the record, but they left an indelible impression nonetheless. The poignant "Weatherman" was a highlight of the night's setlist. The narrator of the song lost his wife, cannot come to terms with her death and cannot move on from the past, so nature helps him paint her back to life through the seasons. Somehow it all feels as relevant to the song, as to the artistic inspiration of the songwriter. Amos, after a few expertly crafted, yet occasionally meandering efforts, has come full circle and seems truly focussed and inspired on the past few albums. It's very exciting. She doesn't have to prove anything to anyone anymore. Her body of work and her impressive talent speak for themselves. There are few artists who are as committed to the material they are performing, even a decade or so later. There are also few musicians who seem as utterly joyous as Amos appeared to be on that grand stage tonight. Amos, like the Weatherman's wife, has been painted back to life.   

SET LIST

01. Parasol

02. Space Dog

03. Icicle

04. Suede

05. Black-Dove (January)

06. Winter

07. Spark

08. Weatherman

Lizard Lounge

09. Smalltown Boy (Bronski Beat cover)

10. Creep (Radiohead cover)

11. A Sorta Fairytale

12. Marianne

13. Take to the Sky (with a bridge from Datura)

14. Scarlet's Walk

15. iieee

16. Cornflake Girl

Encores

17. Precious Things

18. 16 Shades of Blue

19. In Your Room (Depeche Mode cover)

20. Pretty Good Year

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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