One thing’s for certain about an Amanda Fucking Palmer gig: you get an Amazing Fucking Show. On June 13, Amanda Palmer and Legendary Pink Dots’ frontman Edward Ka-Spel took their tour to London for the last night of an epic European journey. I’m lucky enough I get to be able to say, “I was there.”
Remember this: there’s never an artist as polarizing to the public at large than a strong woman. And the most difficult part to figure out is that it’s their problem, not ours. Amanda Palmer has inspired me and many others like me for years. From my humble beginnings as a musical sponge when ‘Delilah’ became my favorite song for a summer of sadness and rage, through nervously playing ‘Astronaut’ at an open mic night and beyond, she’s been there.
In the Spring of last year, Amanda and Edward Ka-Spel, of experimental rock band The Legendary Pink Dots, decided they were going to make a record. When looking for a place to record, they proposed a question to Imogen Heap. A non-verbatim, “What studio would you recommend in England?” As Amanda recounted this tale on the stage at Heaven nightclub on Tuesday night, her flurried English accent had her fans in kinks. “Well,” Imogen had said. “I record in my house.” And so, with the help of Amanda’s Patrons, they did too.
‘I Can Spin a Rainbow’ was recorded from scratch at a time of political intrigue and nausea. The world was going backward. Sipping tea, discussing that it couldn’t get any worse was part of the process and is echoed on the album through haunting strings and atmospheric synths that, if it’s impossible to explain what the fuck is going on in the world, come pretty close as a gesture.
The floor of Heaven was packed. The line had been almost around the block in ways I hadn’t seen in years. There was a classist argument outside that served as a pretty fitting run up to several hundred freaks in a gay bar. Indoors, the stage was set with last night’s glitter and a single pink balloon whose main fixture onstage was understandably snatched when Amanda and Edward rallied around Patrick Q. Wright’s violin solo.
When you go to an Amanda Palmer show, you know you’re going to see a show. You’re going to that gig to witness a perfectly fucking so-imperfect-it’s-perfect piece of living art that’s going to stay with you. The music hit in the way where the hairs on my forearms prickled up and had me desperate to take out my earplugs. I would’ve done too, were I not so captivated by the woman that stepped close for ‘Pulp Fiction’ and shared the life force she put out into the crowd with them. Or the man, the Legend, that sang directly into all of us. It left us as dozens-on-dozens of beggars, craving more.
Before the third track, they brought out a young musician called Alexis Michallek, who gets to call Imogen Heap boss and friend. He was going to play a saw. Magic alone. He demonstrated Imogen’s magic gloves. Gloves that make music. I hadn’t been as fascinated with a piece of technology since the Discman, and that was only because I got to play my Cyndi Lauper CD over and over again on the way to school. The Gloves, on the other hand, fit into pockets.
I “wooped” along with Amanda and Edward when Alexis used the gloves to play two different pieces of ‘Falling’ by Angelo Badalamenti. Aka David Lynch’s compositional partner. Aka the man whose limited edition Twin Peaks soundtrack vinyl is at the top of my list.
The thing about going to see a gig in a club-type venue is the intimacy. ‘The Shock of Kontakt’ is my personal favorite track on ‘I Can Spin a Rainbow’ and I can tell you, bias aside, it was every bit as good and more in person. Amanda’s powerful voice expelled shots into my back and my heart pounded at the rise in adrenaline once she mentioned Brian Viglione (The Dresden Dolls) and the girls (and the boys) in their dresses, top hats and tiaras let out a cabaret-style, “OUAIS.” His name led us into an LPD-tinted cover of ‘Yes, Virginia…’s ‘Mrs. O’.
We felt through the disjointedness of the political climate together with further tracks from ‘I Can Spin a Rainbow’. The crowd had kissers, criers, drunk-only-on-music-ards; each one worshipping every off-color note from every on-color instrument, including the glockenspiel of which we got the first appearance of, from the whole tour.
Midway through, Amanda announced the special guest. It was a man she’d just learned of and fallen in love with. Understandably so. James Rhodes is an English classical musician whose passion for Bach, Amanda made a note of, is one of a thousand reasons he’ll keep classical music alive. If you’ve never heard of him before, I beg of you to search and especially to look into the documentary series he did for the BBC, ‘Notes from the Inside’ as well as his TED talk, ‘music and the inner self’.
James spun the tale of my favorite Greek myth, Orpheus and Eurydice as a prelude to playing us a piece from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera of the same name. The only time the music stopped was for Amanda to cue the sound guys in to turn up the volume, and we were all so glad they did. For James, like Amanda — like all good musicians — the music comes from inside. Whatever cerebral blocks may be there, their art is in being able to channel what’s already there.
We sent well wishes with the power of positive energy to Sarah, and I encourage all our readers to do the same. I felt the atmosphere change. We all did. There was no waiting around for something more. In that moment, we were all there.
After thanking James, Amanda and Edward played another few songs. A Legendary Pink Dots cover or two, a rabble-rousing singalong of ‘Machete’, all of which led to the Rainbow’s End and the encore that followed a rhythmic stampede; the English cry for more eased only by their return to the stage. Even the restless stood for it, making their way back to the dancefloor with aching feet and desperate ears for the grand finale of Dresden Dolls classic ‘Half Jack’ which is a total lament to kids of absent fathers.
The track lost nothing with the lack of percussion. The keys became them and the air was riper even than even before. Nobody likes the end of the night. We all want the final track to go on for hours and, in its cruelty, it doesn’t. It gives us the amped up feelings we’ve got at the beginning of the set when the lights go out and leaves them with us, even as the entire venue sings see Jack run along with Amanda or as the four on stage take their final bows and offer their thanks to us and the patrons, the people at home that got to tune to the webcast because you know what? We live in an artistically free time, and the combination of Amanda Palmer and Edward Ka-Spel proves we can turn our liberal dissatisfaction into magic.