Amanda Palmer (photo: Patric Carver)
If you’ve ever folded origami, you probably have a pretty good handle on the type of magic that Amanda Palmer weaves. In origami, you take an ordinary piece of paper and without changing it in the slightest, you change it completely. You can still tell it’s just a piece of paper, but at the same time, it’s also a crane, or bear, or star, or whatever you want it to be. In the same respect, Palmer folds ordinary events into untraceable tucks and folds that transform the experience into something more.
“There’s a small hurricane,” Palmer held her hands up dramatically to block the mechanically-produced wind that came from DNA’s industrial air conditioning. “Can someone please turn it down? Like, seriously, can we turn it down?” she pleaded.
“We can’t turn it down!” a voice hollered from the general direction of the sound booth after some murmuring and confusion.
“Well,” Palmer said, turning to opener Kat Robichaud, “you’re just going to have to stand in the storm of life.”
Has anyone ever responded to a denial of adjustment of air conditioning more poetically? I mean, without sounding ridiculous?
In the wake of the recent tragedy in Manchester, Robichaud gave a touching speech about her connection to violence and performance by recounting the loss of her fellow performer and friend, Christina Grimmie nearly a year ago. Palmer than rang a bell to signify a moment of peace honoring the victims of the Manchester bombing. Palmer then put up her hands and said, “The musicians,” ushering to Robichaud and pianist Brendan Getzell.
Robichaud’s set was short, but tremendous. She opened with the tender “My Escape,” a misty-eyed love letter set to song. Unlike so many other love songs out there that fail to capture the real experience of cherishing another person, Robichaud’s “Escape” pulsated with the undefinable astonishment that lovers feel upon realizing that someone as wonderful as their beloved not only exists but also desires to share a life with them. It was as if Robichaud had managed to translate the fluttering of an infatuated heart into lyrical form. It was the beginning to an amazing set that ended with another standout song – this time from the other end of the romantic spectrum.
“This song,” sighed Robichaud, “is about a shit relationship I had in my 20s.” The audience let out a collective breath of empathy, and the ever-responsive Robichaud threw back a, “Yeah – fuck that guy!” She launched then into the sobering “Red Satin,” a tune that included a very organic back-and-forth with Getzell. It was so rooted in earnest emotion that it was a great slide into the headlining act.
Amanda Palmer and Edward Ka-Spel brought their manically vampiric sound to the stage in support of their collaboration album, I Can Spin a Rainbow. Each song had a haunted quality to it – less emotive than Palmer’s previous work but more experiential. Her big voice was soupy at times, like in the imagery-streaming “Beyond the Beach,” which gave it an ethereal quality. This was particularly true when compared to Ka-Spel’s gravelly tones. I enjoyed this. Palmer has such a magnanimous voice, it would be easy for her to always hide behind her technical skill. It was nice to see her let the vocals purposely fray and ebb at times.
Palmer added to her mystique by calling upon all sorts of musical traditions, such a using bells and theatrical hand gestures to punctuate moments in her pieces. It made the music hard to define in terms of genre, but even harder for some audience members to decide if it was enjoyable. “I don’t understand what she’s doing,” a fellow concert-goer in from of me said to his date. “Are those meditation bells?” A rapid hush was fired back at him as if admitting to confusion would somehow ruin the moment for them both. He looked sheepishly around for support, but fell short. It’s hard to be a square at a Palmer event.
Included in the set was a cover of the Dresden Dolls‘ song “Mrs. O.” Substituting “no Donald Trump” for “no Santa Claus” in the lyrics, Palmer really pulled in those standing on the outskirts of her avant-garde fringe and united them with common hatred for the commander in chief.
Ka-Spel and Palmer created an event on stage that was undoubtedly musically sound, but perhaps more polarizing in its realization than other acts. If you are a fan of Palmer, this set would have been a real treat, but if you’re not already a dedicated follower, I have a feeling it would have left you cold. It didn’t have the standard charge of a typical musical performance, but it didn’t have the outlandish bizarreness of artists like Pere Ubu or, dare I say, some of Palmer and Ka-Spel’s other work. This is not a slight on their performance, but, rather, a barometer of their weirdness. All in all, it was a delightfully playful show with more song than strange.
Kat Robichaud is performing as part of Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret presents Cinephelia June 2-3 at the Great Star Theatre.