Saturday, March 28, 2009
Culture Room, Ft. Lauderdale
Better Than: A televised confessional.
If there's a better way to preface a Culture Room show than by hitting the legendary Mai-Kai, I don't know what it is. When that show happens to be by Dresden Doll baby Amanda Palmer, well, the prefacing is just about perfect. From the thatched entrance to the Tiki-torched garden, the shrunken skull cocktails to the Pu Pu Platter, the hula girls and fire-dancers and lei-wielding tour attendants, the Polynesian eatery serves as a kinda keen and simple counterpoint to all the mad dash that seems to consume our lives.
Same goes for Dear Amanda, who sits alone at the piano and sings her stirring songs free from the detritus that's become such a staple of the modern pop marketplace. That's how she staged last night, anyway, when she soloed in support of her debut solo LP Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
This Doll also likes to chat. In fact, she's quite the Chatty Cathy. And during a rather extended segment which included a give-and-take called "Ask Amanda," she meandered on about pancakes and technology and other vital matters as if this were just another casual conversation.
And she gets pissed, especially when the subject of her record company is raised. Seems Roadrunner's far from the right fit for Palmer, and the Dolls, and she's doing everything she can to be free from their grasp. Since Amanda's a singer, everything of course includes singing about it. So she did so, with a vitriolic little ditty done to the tune of "Moon River."
But I didn't ditch a WMC Saturday night to hear something I could very well have read about in my own interview with her; I came to see the lass sing the songs that have continued to leave me floored.
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And when Amanda did finally get on with the songs, I was floored all over again - and then some.
The Dolls' classic "Coin-Operated Boy" came off as if an unhinged marionette had taken possession of the proceedings, skipping and stuttering and flailing away through a whole new Five Stages of Grief. This must be how it feels when the object of one's desire cannot satisfy all those deeper yearnings. And this is how a hard heart lays it all bare.
The genetically-diced "Runs in the Family" was no less raw. A push through the legacy one gets left and a peak into a clan's deep, dark secrets, "Family" is a mouthy, boisterous affair, full of venom and knowing. But it's not so much an excuse, or even an explanation for what may or may not be considered off-kilter behavior. It's a celebration. Kinda like a smack in the face shows someone that you truly care.
But what really laid me out was a torn tune entitled "Trout Heart Replica." As Amanda explained, it was written after visiting a Minnesota fish farm with arch storyteller Neil Gaiman, where a monger extracted a little beating heart and held it in his hand for all to see, and then set it on the counter so they could watch it continue to beat while he wrote up their order.
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It's a brave composition, brutal in its subject, yet laced with great empathy and grace. In other words, it's a beautiful look at the very bloody business of life. And that really is what lies at the core of everything Amanda Palmer does and is. And everything she was last night.
Personal Bias: She's keen and dreamy, and I've had a crush on her since I first heard her sing.
Random Detail: Amanda's altered the "Kurzweil" logo on her electric piano to read "Kurt Weil," which shows you where her lovely head is at.
By the Way: The Neil Gaiman evidentiary collaboration for Who Killed Amanda Palmer? will be released in limited edition come June. Log on to the site for more details.