Brighton Festival 2018
Transvestite stand-up Andrew O’Neill warmed up the audience with his savage observations and humorous songs, nicely parodying the tired cliche of looped songs, while stomping about in DM boots and a white nightie. He provided some much needed levity in what was to become a litany of post-natal depression and death which was heartrending for some and gruelling for others.
“Amanda F***ing Palmer” appeared relaxed, looking like a circus ringmaster in striped trousers, military jacket and red boots, quaffing red wine.
The majority of the staging was pared down, and while the lighting was suitably atmospheric there was a schoolboy error of one of the lower lights facing directly into the audience half-blinding a third of the stalls and a section of the balcony, which resulted in audience members adopting strange twisted poses as they attempted to avoid the interrogation-style blinding of the lamp.
The first two-hour long half opened with Palmer complains that that day’s Guardian had a feature calling her “controversial.” “Seems these days if a woman has an opinion she’s seen as ‘controversial’” she retorted, before unleashing the savage “Missed Me”. Her strong, snarling voice (both in volume and empowerment) means she can tackle issues of feminism head on writing a “song for the #metoo generation.” However this, combined with speakers turned up to 11, meant that it was too loud for much of the show. The initial set was made up of old and new material, including “At Least the Baby Didn’t Die”—a simultaneously moving and amusing look at the insecurities of Palmer as a new mother. After numerous neo-cabaret songs there was a 15 minute interval.
Towards the end of the interval, Palmer wandered through the audience, singing a cover version of Radiohead’s Creep and getting the audience to join in, whilst being pursued by O’Neill and an overly zealous security guard. But she is comfortable in a crowd, after all, these are “her people.” They’ve invested in her, not just emotionally, but financially as well.
The second half featured some classic tracks from her punk(ish) Dresden Dolls days, including the scene-chewing Coin-Operated Boy, as well as many new songs from her forthcoming album. The general tone of the show was almost that of a musical with spoken word introductions that were almost as long as songs themselves. Her online life is very important to her and many anecdotes surrounded things that either happened their or were in some way connected to the virtual world.
There’s no denying that she is an accomplished performer and pianist, drawing on her years of street performing and cabaret work with cult band The Dresden Dolls.
A review of her book, The Art of Asking, on Amazon wrote, “I tired of the relentlessness of her ego” and there was a certain degree of that on stage, in the unshakeable belief that her life was so utterly unique and interesting. At three hours long the show felt more like a marathon than a sprint, and Palmer fans certainly get their money’s worth, whooping, cheering and shouting out “WE LOVE YOU!” at the slightest quip or expletive. There’s a cult of personality that is incredibly strong around the performer and it’s one that she has successfully cultivated over the years through various online campaigns including her oft-mentioned Patreon site. She informed us that with all her Patreons now paying her $3 each, she essentially had a salary, which was unusual for a performer.
Her penultimate tune was inspired by late comedian Bill Hicks’ famous skit, “It’s Just a Ride” which was a gentler, melodic semi-melancholic musing on life.
The more disingenuous might call Palmer a poor woman’s Tori Amos, and the way she pounds the piano with overly wrought emotion about deeply personal stories from her life could easily draw comparisons. But it’s what many would call “over sharing” that endears Palmer to her many fans, offering her own on-stage catharsis to be embraced with their own.
In one of her final numbers Amanda Palmer (joined by O’Neill in a glamorous Swaovski-bejewelled frock ) sings a love song to her oft-mentioned husband, Neil Gaiman, “It’s the Vegemite, my darling or me” and in many ways she is like that other savoury spread, Marmite – you either loath her or love her. The show definitely divided the audience in an 80/20 split in favour of the latter.