Grand Theft Orchestra guitarist Chad Raines announces that he calls for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” when ever he needs to get an audience and around the half way mark it appears to have done the job, at least in the front of the stage, where it wasn’t needed, he flipped out as, for the second time, Amanda Palmer disappeared into the audience for a space of time and all we heard was her botching the lyric to the 1990s anthem.
Yeah, it was a good idea, and I bet it played well on the Lincoln Center live stream, but Amanda needed to play to the back of the park and ignore the faithful, she need the casual passerbys on her stage, the way Vau De Vire Society did a little earlier in the evening, but her bearings are a little off. When she is killing it, she isn’t killing them, “I guess you can’t dance in your chairs” she mutters, and when isn’t killing it, maybe half of the 70 minute set, the casual attendees at the packed out free concert are not helping in the slightest. The evening reaches its nadir with a dreary “What was she thinking of” eight minute new sad ballad on ukulele that had me, and not just me, baffled as to her lack of judgement. A seventh of her set thrown away.
I realize this sounds like a major pan and, indeed, it isn’t at all. Palmer had moments that were exciting as you could hope for from the woman who put on one of the great shows eleven months ago at Webster Hall but this was nothing like the experience I claimed: “I had gone from a lifetime of dislike to an immense fan of Amanda Palmer. I felt what I go to concerts to feel: something else, different, out of my head, and more, and this is really hard to figure out, but connected to the artist, and even more than that, as though I had experienced a timeline event: I wasn’t the same as when it began. It was like an epic dream and when you wake up you can’t shake it.”
Palmer seemed like something else as she performed songs off her just released Theater Is Evil and all points ease back then. At Lincoln Center, she was more what she actually is. A sort of cabaret version of Jonathan Richman. Once you cut through the performance art, cabaret, what you are left is two things, a woman who can construct a song and can rhyme anything like a mordant Jonathan Richman, tripping over cliches and laying em dead in her wake as she fills out lines with syllables like a sputtering gun going bam bam bam at your face and shoulders.
The evening was meant to be more. Presented in association with Gemini And Scorpio, what was meant to be, I guess, was a lifting of the veil behind a world we wouldn’t really get to see. According to their website: “Gemini & Scorpio, two funky Brooklyn gals, have been running the second-largest non-commercial New York City events list since 2002, spreading the word on underground happenings you’d otherwise never hear about. They are also the makers of themed costume parties with live entertainment: legendary happenings from wild circus throwdowns to dazzling vintage dance socials to one-of-a-kind Russian baths bashes.”
Sounds like fun and it is certainly different. What I saw of Vau De Vire (they also joined Amanda for the penultimate song of the evening), they were entirely smashing”avant-garde cabaret” was an Edwardian rave up. I was less convinced by Rosin Covin, a “pagan lounge ensemble”, with stand up bass and cello, and certainly a great deal of personality, but need better songs.
Amanda didn’t need better songs, and the first three songs were superb: “Do It Like A Rockstar” followed by”The Killing” and then a surprise guest appearance by the other Dresden Doll Brian Viglione for a three penny opera type “Missed Me” with Brian a charged up presence. Indeed, if Grand Theft Orchestra is missing anything it is somebody able to give Amanda a break, a break she takes any way.
Behind her keyboards she can seem to disappear and while that is settled by a ukulele segment it is around this point the set seriously flounders, the “sad Ballad” followed by “Lost” with Amanda back behind the keyboards is a drag on the entire evening. And the lousy thing is I could fix it like that. Dump em both and add “Melody Dean” -and that’s it, on your bike dude. However, the problem with the set goes a little deeper. It is difficult to play for an audience which both cares about you and doesn’t care about you; that is there just to see you and also is there because they arte there. Amanda thinks she isn’t quite connecting because the audience is smart. Maybe she is more like just bemused. Perhaps there is nothing to do with a 150 minute set boiled down to 70 minutes: it is too jerky, it doesn’t develop the way it should. An 8 minute song, which you’d forget about if you didn’t like it in a 150 minute set, gives you a sinking feeling.
The final song of the stream finds Brian, Vau De Vire Society and Rosin Coven crowding the stage for a fine “Leeds United”, though “Who needs love when you’ve got Southern Comfort” was not the sentiment Amanda wanted to send us home with. Instead she came back after it was over and played “Ukulele Anthem”. Me and you, we both worship the song, right? We must. “If anybody wants to steal your ukulele, let them take it” Amanda Palmer sings. A sentiment worthy of Jesus… and Jonathan Richman
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