(photos: Vanessa Solis)
When AFP comes to SF, it’s a BFD. Amanda Palmer, whose name is often abbreviated as AFP (give you one guess as to what the F stands for), is adored in San Francisco, a city full of (as she put it during her Public Works appearance on July 13th) “special snowflakes”. San Franciscans have a long history of gravitating toward the fringes of art, in which Palmer, if she wasn’t before, is now staunchly entrenched.
Check out any tech blog worth its salt and you might find some recent results for Amanda Palmer: her Kickstarter campaign, launched earlier this year to fund her forthcoming record and the tour in support of it, ended up far exceeding its original goal and wrapping up at just under $1.2 mil – a first for any musician on the crowd-funding site. The show at Public Works on the 13th, though open to all fans, came outfitted with goodies for her Kickstarter backers: certain funders were entitled to a private opening-night gala the evening before and guaranteed admission to Friday’s show. One funder even sprung for the “Donut with a Rock Star” package ($1000 – only 4 purchased in total) and dined on Dynamo Donuts with Palmer and her crew before the show.
As donuts were had backstage, the crowd outside was allowed to peruse a small gallery of Palmer-inspired art, mostly made up of portraits of her and a few more esoteric pieces inspired by her songs. After a short wait, Palmer herself wandered out on stage, donut in hand, to give a short thank-you to her donors and fans, and introduced the first act: Die Roten Punkt, a bawdy, vaudevillian act armed with a guitar, drums and a healthy dose of silliness. The pair were then incongruently followed by Jherek Bischoff, Palmer’s bassist on the new record and himself an accomplished composer: Bischoff’s set lent a refreshing gravity to the night by taking the audience through some serene compositions, played by local string players culled from Twitter only days beforehand.
Palmer famously takes flak from haters for being self-indulgent, vain, and uncouth, based mostly on her habit of collecting (and, now, exhibiting) self-portraits from fans, her taste for nudity and notoriously fervent Twitter habit. And if she wasn’t such an f-ing good songwriter, they might be right.
To be fair, they are right – she is self-indulgent, vain, and uncouth. She does freely post pictures of her naked upper-half to her Twitter account and has long, frank conversations with her followers about body hair (she even has a song about it*). But to her fans, many of whom began worshipping her during The Dresden Dolls’ heyday in the mid-2000s, she can do no wrong. Her vanity translates into the rare openness and vulnerability that invades her songwriting. There’s a new batch of it available on the new record, Theatre is Evil. And let me tell you, these songs are good. So good that while she’s performing them, you kind of lose track of time. When they end, you slowly creep back into the real world, going, “How long was I out for?”
Palmer opened her set with “Do It With a Rock Star”, the leading single off Evil, and lead the audience through a varied catalog of work from the new album, songs from her 2008 solo debut, and even appeased older fans with vintage Dresden Dolls favorites like “Missed Me” and “Girl Anachronism”. Her older tracks, which are typically heavy on the black keys, were rounded out nicely with the instruments that her backing band, The Grand Theft Orchestra, had to work with – guitar, bass, and a synthesizer. Her new album is clearly influenced by the 80s music she’s referenced in past work, but still retains her sparkling sincerity. By the end of the evening, she had made her way back around to “Want It Back”, the synth-laden single from the new album with a video that caught a lot of buzz last week for both its artistic innovation and Palmer’s no-fear full-frontal appearance.
Between the gallery opening, the public show, and an art talk the night after, Palmer ended up spending a full weekend in San Francisco – unusual for a woman who is always on the road, going wherever the fans are (and they are everywhere — she flew in from Paris just days before). If you didn’t get to see her on this round, you can try again soon. Tickets are already selling for another, more traditional tour that hits San Francisco in September. However, this time there will be no gallery, no art talks, and no donuts. But who are we kidding — when has Palmer done anything traditional?
Watch the video for “Want It Back”*:
*Just to be clear, it’s totally NSFW, which is a pretty safe bet for most Amanda Palmer videos.