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Tori Amos- Caught A Lite Sneeze, 1996
There is nothing about this video that isn’t incredible. Those vocals….just wow.
A photoset of Tori Amos judging you.
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That jam session starting around 42:40 is one of the reasons why I still love Tori Amos this much in 2013. You can see halfway in, she really loses herself in the music and something is channeling through her. Her whole posture/demeanor changes from the rest of the interview, where she’s very demure, and suddenly there’s a rock star banging it out on this little keyboard in a tiny studio. Plus I’m always a sucker for her hair (wig?) flips, and Tori manages to be sultry without it feeling gratuitous.
If you have the time, the whole episode of this show is worth watching, and not just for Tori. All the other artists she and Hauschka meet with are talented and interesting, and there are a few other fascinating moments where the audience can see Tori just playing free-form on piano.
Black History Month Story time:
Merry Clayton - “Gimme Shelter”
Before 1969, Merry Clayton was just a Brooklyn-based singer trying to scrounge up any back-up gig she could find. When The Rolling Stones were recording “Let It Bleed,” they started looking for backup singers for their new song “Gimme Shelter,” and their manager suggested Clayton.
Six months pregnant, Merry came to the studio to record her now-infamous backup track. The Stones themselves were very obviously impressed with her talent. Around 3 minutes into the Stones version, you can even her Jagger let out a “Whoo!” when Merry cracks open the note over the word “Murder.”
Though the recording session put to tape one of the most memorable backup performances in the history of Rock N’ Roll, the memory would not be a good one for Merry Clayton. Just after the session, she suffered a miscarriage in her home. Many blame the intensity of her performance.
When the Stones heard this, they were heartbroken. They approached her and offered partial ownership of the track. They also wanted her to record her own version.
This is it. Be careful, it will melt steel.
Merry said, of the whole ordeal, “That was a dark, dark period for me, but God gave me the strength to overcome it.”
I always need to chime in at the end of this story with the hugely important-to-me information that Merry Clayton is also responsible for the “and the man with the golden gun” part at the end of Cornflake Girl that makes Cornflake Girl so good
She was also the original Acid Queen in the first production of Tommy. So yeah, there’s nothing Merry Clayton can’t make better.
ok i’m definitely kind of obsessed with this song now.
I’m seriously angry that the NYC Lana Del Rey show is the same night as the Tori show in DC. If Lana was up against anyone but Tori, she’d win. Video Games may end up being my top track of the year, it’s been haunting me for the last couple months and it resonates more and more as time goes by.
The opening instrumentation alone is stunning, and then the vocals come in and the song becomes devastating. Initially the chorus didn’t work as well as the verses for me, but the contrast of the lyrics and the world-weary defeated tone of the vocals pushed me over to loving it.
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Tori Amos- Sugar (Milan 2011)
Because I’ve heard the majority of Tori Amos performances since 1996 due to my obsessive bootleg collecting, it takes a lot for her to really truly blow me away. I almost always enjoy her performances, but there has to be something unique or special for it to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This Sugar is one of those special performances. The first thing I noticed is the absolute confidence and power she’s projecting out into the audience. That “yeah, you just try and fuck with me, see what happens” attitude that was so prevalent in every performance from 94-01 and which seemed to completely disappear after 2005 (unless she was playing a character) is back in spades, and its making the performances feel unpredictable again. I’ve heard over 100 performances of Sugar (I told you I was obsessive!) and there are moments here where I don’t know what’s going to happen with her inflections and tempo, and that’s thrilling because every performance becomes about those particular moments and feelings, with no disconnect between the artist and the material.
The next thing to stand out about this performance for me was how tender it was. There’s still the anger and moments of fury that have been a part of Sugar since 1998 (a performance where “you’re just a pussy, my sweet boy” isn’t delivered right is a shitty performance), but “when they find you out…” has an empathy and quiet sadness that gives the song another dimension. Even as she’s ready to take this boy to task and call him on his bullshit, there’s still an understanding of his pain. And of course, if we learned nothing else from the 90’s, we should know that utilizing the quiet/loud (or sad/angry) dynamic makes both parts of a song more powerful.
Finally, how amazing are those ending high notes? It seems like somebody went back in time and gave Tori her 1998 voice again. They’re so clean and expressive, giving a difficult song a perfect finish.
OK, I think I’ve gushed enough for now. But trust me, I could probably go on for a few more paragraphs.
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Tori Amos- Yes, Anastasia (live with the Metropole Orchestra)
I’m going to do a few posts about my trip to Amsterdam, but obviously this review needs to come first. Tori Amos playing with an orchestra wasn’t the only reason I wanted to go to Amsterdam, but it was the impetus for the trip. All told, I spent around $1500 to go to this show. So was it worth it?
Before the show was the meet and greet, which is pretty much what the name implies. Tori comes out and talks to people, takes pictures, signs things, etc. after her soundcheck. The last few M&Gs I’ve gone to, there’s been enough time and few enough people that everyone there got to talk to her. That was not the case this time, since over 200 people were there. Luckily I was in the front and got my Boys For Pele vinyl signed and gave her the “Space Dog” graphic novel I had brought. It was a pretty rushed experience, but still nice. After that, I hung out with some of my friends/acquaintances at the show, and found out one of my friends who has the hook-up had gotten me a front row seat which put me about two seats over from Tori’s spot on stage. (I gave my other seats from earlier to a friend and a girl I met at the M&G) That pushed my excitement and hopes for the show even higher, and those expectations are probably what led me to be a bit disappointed in some aspects of the show.
Let’s cover the bad first. The show started out very shakey, with performances of Star of Wonder and Jackie’s Strength marred by Tori struggling to breathe and using her high “baby voice” which seems to be how she’s coping with losing some of her higher register and what she lapses into when she’s nervous or tired. It just doesn’t work though, since the baby voice can’t express emotion well and is grating. At the 2010 summer shows, that voice was almost completely absent but it returned with a vengeance tonight. Tori was visibly unhappy with how the show was going at that point, but she pulled it together for a nice performance of Snow Cherries From France, and followed it up with several of the songs I and most others really wanted to hear. The mere presence of Snow Cherries in the set reveals the other main problem the show had: The setlist was random and highlighted some of the least impressive songs in her catalog. Does anyone really want to hear Maybe California ever? Or Programmable Soda, which was a fun performance, but come on! You’re going to play that and Girl Disappearing and not do Gold Dust or Pretty Good Year? There were 5 songs I could’ve replaced with at least 30 songs in her catalog and had a better show. There was also an overabundance of material from the Midwinter Graces album, 4 songs plus a “Holly, Ivy, and Rose” improv performance. I think Midwinter Graces is the best album Tori’s released since Scarlet’s Walk, but that’s way too much, especially when only one song from Boys For Pele, one from Choirgirl Hotel, and none from Scarlet’s Walk were performed.
When Tori did play the songs I came to hear though, it was excellent. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the moment when the strings kicked in during Yes, Anastasia made me happier than I’ve been in months, possibly years. The switch flipped in my brain and the rest of the world went away, leaving just the music. There was a similar moment in Marianne when the orchestra crashed in and it was even better than I thought it would be. Flying Dutchman and Our New Year (which, along with the snippet of Holly, Ivy and Rose, was the Midwinter Graces track I was happy to hear) were similarly excellent. Silent All These Years was performed at the album tempo for the first time since probably 1994, which was a nice surprise although the bridge was marred by some vocal issues. Tori’s piano playing was noticeably more intricate and dynamic than usual, and she showcased it with multiple improvs, some cute and some dark. Playing with the orchestra may have been a challenge for her voice, but she can still more than keep up on the piano.
The encore began with Tori coming out and announcing they were going to re-do the first three songs because the show was going to be aired on the radio and “(she) fucked up”. All three performances were miles better than the first take, which goes to show how much of her weaker initial performance was due to nerves, not a loss of ability. Someone needs to get her back on the good drugs so she can get over her anxiety issues or something. The woman used to film major TV specials high out of her mind (seriously, she has to be on something here) and it was worlds better. Jackie’s Strength in particular sounded great the second time around, but the real surprise of the encore was a completely reworked and amazing performance of Precious Things. It was intense, powerful, and exactly the kind of reinvention I wanted more of!
Ultimately, the show was worth it, even if I was disappointed by some of Tori’s vocals and song choices. There were more than enough incredible moments in the show so that I would have been beating myself up over not going for the rest of my life, and honestly she wouldn’t have been able to play most of what I wanted to hear without doing a 5 hour show. I hope she does more orchestral shows in the near future since I think the shows would only get better as Tori becomes more comfortable with the set-up and can deal with the issues in this performance.
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Dissolved By The Water All These Years- PJ Harvey, Tori Amos, Bjork and Massive Attack (Mash-up by Wax Audio)
I know mash-ups haven’t been cool for at least a few years, but come on, that artist line-up should at least have you curious.
Putting the piano intro to Silent All These Years over the bass fuzz of Dissolved Girl and bringing in the sultry vocals of PJ Harvey creates a sinister yet beautiful vibe that gives the first few lines of Silent a threatening Single White Female stalker vibe. “Excuse me, but can I be you for a while? My dog won’t bite if you sit real still…” has never sounded scarier. Bjork’s “Cover Me” works well as a bridge, before returning to the Down By The Water/Silent All These Years combo to conclude the song.
Aside from the song being excellent, the video is almost perfectly put together. The transitions are well-done, non-awkward, and always appropriate. Showing PJ Harvey at her most seductive pushes the intensity level up and the shots of Tori from various videos are nicely chosen, as are the little flashes of Bjork throughout.
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Apparently the Metropole Orchestra twitter person was mistaken, and Tori Amos and the orchestra will just be playing new arrangements, not entirely new songs. And thus, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth across the land.
Ah well, there is more than enough in her back catalog to fill the show and have it all be incredible and I wasn’t counting on hearing anything new before today anyways. I was thinking about what songs I’d love to hear and had 30+ listed in my head in a couple minutes. I’m even excited to hear the big hits I’m normally a little sick of from having heard live so many times like Cornflake Girl Silent All These Years, etc.
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Tori Amos- Yes, Anastasia
I didn’t think I could get much more excited for the Tori Amos concert w/ an orchestra on October 8th, but 3 awesome things happened that have me filled with childlike glee: I got a free 2nd row ticket from someone who can’t make the show, the Metropole Orchestra confirmed that Yes, Anastasia, possibly Tori’s best song, and Flying Dutchman will definitely be performed AND that there will be the debut of NEW material written specifically for the orchestra.
If I had a shakingandcrying GIF, this is where I’d use it.
This is indeed my favourite picture of Tori - most people seem disgusted but I like the fact it seems so natural, so maternal and earthy and I think piglets look adorable. Probably wouldn’t one suckling from me though… anyhoo, here’s Tori Amos breastfeeding a pig.
Obviously the picture was done at least in part for its shock value, and it works really well on that level, but I do like Tori’s explanation of it, that it was her “Madonna and child” bringing the (literally) non-kosher back into the fold. It’s a nice counterpart to her musical attacks on organized religion from the Boys For Pele album like Muhammad My Friend and Father Lucifer.
Jesus fuck. “One above and two below.” Good lord.
There’s a lot we could say about this, even without getting into biography. Autobiography, though, is a different story. For instance, I could talk about Matthew’s distinction between 90s indie as emotionally reserved and cerebral and 00s indie as emotionally open and visceral. For me, this sorta explains why I didn’t listen to a lot of indie in the 90s. I was into “alt” acts, sure, but they were all major-label, and the acts I was into most were things like Tori Amos and Blur. Tori, after all, is the woman who once covered “Raining Blood” under the assumption that it was about a vagina raining blood on Afghanistan, so this is not really subtle, emotionally reserved stuff, you know? Whereas Britpop, for me as an American teenager, was appealing because it didn’t need to worry about American authenticity, and so could play with theatricality and archness in a way I found appealing. It was cerebral but not reserved, putting its social commentary out there blatantly and then kind of swanning around it. Tori would have taken the opposite approach, hiding the social commentary with her body as she tried to gnaw it to death. But indie wanted to turn its back on the social commentary and pretend it wasn’t there. That never really interested me, and still doesn’t, I guess, since I’m still not the biggest Pavement fan, either.
But if I learned anything from 00s indie, it’s that I liked when those impulses I was drawn to were leavened by a more cerebral mood in the culture surrounding them. The more sincere style of 00s indie was created in the context of a decade filled with fear and anxiety, and while I understand that, it’s not what I come to music for. When Tori - or Polly Jean Harvey, for that matter - put her emotions on the line, it was as a way of controlling them, and expressing mastery over the situation. 00s indie carried a tone much more of submission, or resignation, and since I come to music for triumph and energy, it never really hit me much. I engaged with indie much more in the 00s, but ultimately, it’s hard to tell if that’s because my tastes changed or because the music biz changed, and a lot of the acts I love might have been major-label alt bands in the 90s. I love the weird Brooklyn moment in the first half of the decade that produced electroclash and garage rock, and a lot of the more interesting bands that came out of it, but the tendencies since then have largely fallen flat for me.
What’s interesting about Hole is that they cycle between those two modes I liked in the 90s, going viceral for Live Through This but arch for Celebrity Skin. Courtney even embodies both impulses in this one performance, insistently screaming her anguish for “Violet” - whereas 00s indie’s tendency would be to mutter it, I feel like - and then turning arch with “He Hit Me.” It’s the kind of performance that leaves an audience speechless, and though that was a regular occurrence at Tori concerts, I don’t see a lot of that being pursued now. Which is fine! I’m always a bit out of step, and there’s more than enough stuff indie-wise around to keep me happy.
Anyway, all that said: please watch this video.
This is fantastic! This is what I’d have to show to anyone who says that anything on Live Through This doesn’t hold up. (I have that fight every now and then.)
With Matthew’s post in mind (which I enjoyed and tend to agree with), I do want to add something that I was thinking about as someone who was more into the 00s kind of indie during my emotional development. We’re talking about the emo movement of the early 00s here, obviously, and I want to focus on two bands: Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional. Conor Oberst, for me, represents the high-brow end of that genre, where Chris Carraba is most certainly the low-brow. I was a big fan of both of those bands at one point - first it was Dashboard Confessional and The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, then I moved on to Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground.
Both of those records seem kind of lame now - particularly Dashboard’s (and I know a lot of people thought they were lame then). And while I’d completely write off Dashboard Confessional now as whiny pseudo-punk music with an acoustic guitar, it’s hard for me to dismiss Bright Eyes. That record blew me away when I first heard it; I hadn’t heard anything as epic and big and with the emotional outburst that Oberst put forth in his lyrics and vocals. And while there are a lot of other dudes who have written music about their feelings before him (see: Elliott Smith, Big Star, Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr., etc.), his music was the first I approached and, honestly, showed me that it was OK to be a guy and have feelings.
That’s really it, isn’t it? Isn’t it more about this idea that dudes can’t cry? They have to rock and be loud and be sexy and arrogant. It’s OK for chicks (and look! Courtney Love is trying to be a dude up there!) to be emotional and poetic, but it’s too faggy for a guy to do it. That’s really the undertone I get from every argument dismissing any emotional (/emo) music written by a man that is more vocal-based and contains a bigger, fuller sound (rather than Elliott Smith’s sparse acoustic sound; his is almost a little different because his shit was about being on drugs, really).
Also: at the end of the day, all of this is just opinion and people need to chill the fuck out, because it all comes across as a silly us vs. them argument that will obviously never end because it’s based on personal taste. Look, I like Bright Eyes and I like Pavement, and I like them pretty equally and don’t think I’d think it’s appropriate to put them head-to-head. If I’m in a shitty mood, I’m more likely to listen to “Road to Joy.” If I’m in better spirits, as I was when I was driving around the Outer Banks with the windows down and the volume way up, I’ll listen to “Gold Soundz” (and, yeah, I can sing along to “Gold Soundz”). If my mood is somewhere in the middle, I’ll listen to “Violet.”
I think the whole “boys don’t cry” thing is absolutely a huge reason why so much of early 00’s indie and emo was dismissed by people, but I also think a big part of it was a perceived immaturity, both of performer and audience, by critics and non-fans. Now there’s certainly something to be said for immature being a codeword for “unmanly” and “get over it and stop whining”, but even as a fan of both the Bright Eyes and Dashboard records you named, I have to admit that it is music made for the young, about things that happen to you when you’re young (even if it’s amazingly written, as is the case with Lifted). I feel like Ryan Adams is a male singer/songwriter who was writing music that was just as emotionally intense and filled with FEELINGS as Oberst but got a lot more initial critical respect (that he then pissed away, but still). Part of that could be because he followed the typical male rockstar actions in the press, and because he was coming from that alt-country genre, but I think some of it was due to him making music 35 year old rock critics and the NPR crowd could relate to. And when Oberst put out “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” and matured in subject matter (without losing the emotional component), he got much more mainstream acceptance.
I also think the fanbase ANY act with a lot of emotional content attracts acts as cause for dismissal by a lot of people. I don’t just mean emo kids here, I’ve heard Tori Amos dismissed as “music for fat chicks and the raped” and Hole dismissed as “music for angry white girls desperate to have issues”. There’s a mainstream bias against anything with a primarily young and/or female audience (and don’t even get me started on the bias against anything with a largely gay audience) that keeps people from taking certain acts seriously and actually LISTENING to them under the auspices of “Those people don’t know what they’re talking about, they wouldn’t know good music if it smacked them in the face” that definitely impacted all the artists mentioned above unfortunately.
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You can listen to the Tori Amos concert in Moscow live (for the next 2 hours at least) here: http://www.silver.ru/radio/
Since this is her first ever show in Russia, I’m betting she’ll bring her A-game and it’ll be filled with old classics as well as a full performance of the incredible epic Yes, Anastasia.
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Tori Amos- Crazy (from Scarlet’s Walk)
So I let Crazy pull me in
Then I let Crazy take his spin
Kicked off my shoes, shut reason out
He said “first let’s just unzip
your religion down,
Heard that you were once
Crazy is a song that took me a while to fully appreciate. It didn’t jump out at me on the first or even 10th listen of Scarlet’s Walk because it lacked either the pop hooks of songs like A Sorta Fairytale and Taxi Ride or the epic sweep and stunning instrumentation of tracks like I Can’t See New York or Gold Dust. Once I dug deeper into the album though, it revealed itself as a highlight. The harmonies and vocalizations are top-notch and the multiple layers of vocals envelop the listener, making the song soothing and gentle. The instrumentation has a slight country/Americana feel to it, with the bass and guitar providing a bit of twang and the use of the Rhodes separating it from the usual piano-led Tori Amos sound. I could actually see Lucinda Williams or Emmylou Harris doing a great cover of this song, there’s a maturity to it that would fit their voices well. I know I rag on some of Tori’s production choices on her recent albums and hope she gets an outside producer at some point, but she did a perfect job here. The song has a calming tone, with most of the edges of her vocal smoothed out nicely, but she also manages to create a seductive atmosphere, as well as highlight all the right musical parts at the right time and keep the heavily utilized backing vocals effective instead of overwhelming.
Lyrically, the song isn’t Tori’s most complex work, but there are some excellent bits like the part I quoted above, and
Found that I, I craved at all
Saw me melt into your
Where you carved my name
Paper tigers scared me
and came alive
Through the dawn
To the light
Fundamentally, Crazy is a song about being with someone who shakes up your view of the world. He challenges the narrator’s views on sex and religion, and presents ideas that seem dangerous (paper tiger is a Japanese phrase meaning something that appears dangerous but isn’t). Although she always thinks of him as crazy, she opens up her mind/heart and lets him in deeper and deeper. They may separate at the end of the song, but I believe Crazy shows up again in the final segment of the album to feature into the songs Another Girl’s Paradise and Gold Dust, tying the album’s conclusion more tightly to its first half and providing a nice conclusion to the overall narrative.
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