Though her credentials as a virtuoso pianist and boundary-shattering rock anti-heroine aren't in question, Tori Amos's records have seen limited exposure beyond her devoted cult.
Though her credentials as a virtuoso pianist and boundary-shattering rock anti-heroine aren't in question, Tori Amos's recent records have seen limited exposure beyond her devoted cult. With ever-lengthening track lists and countless inscrutable themes and subthemes, "Scarlet's Walk" and "The Beekeeper" were difficult even for the devoted.
What's more, the flashes of hard rock and dance music that pulsed through her best work became increasingly infrequent as the artist seemed to recede, like many others before her, into non-threatening middle age.
"American Doll Posse," Amos's latest, is hardly an accessible entry point for newcomers - if anything, it's the most confusing, schizophrenic, uneven recording of her long career. But on stage, where Amos first staked her claim to being one of her era's most significant and uncompromising female pop stars, the album's confounding concept might provide a bridge to a long hoped-for creative rebirth.
The hook is that for each show on this tour Amos begins performing "in character" as one of the four alter egos she has crafted for the new album's suite of songs. At Denver's Wells Fargo Theatre, bottle-blonde socialite Santa was the "opening act." Flirting with her bandmates and winking lasciviously at the audience, in this guise Amos was able to breathe new life into some old warhorses, give at least a little insight into "Santa"'s songs from the new album and overall remind the audience of the singular force of nature that first emerged in the early '90s. What other female rocker can grope her privates at one moment and tell a touching anecdote about her seven-year-old daughter at the next?
Longtime drummer and bassist Matt Chamberlain and Jon Evans have been joined by an added guitarist for this tour, since "American Doll Posse" features the instrument much more than Amos's last several releases. Songs from the new album, "You Can Bring Your Dog" and "Body and Soul" in particular, benefited from the expanded sound. The band also grinded convincingly through a jam based on "Professional Widow" while "Santa" snuck backstage to change back into Tori. Anyone who had seen an Amos show in the last several years, though, would be very familiar with the trio performance of "Cornflake Girl" and the obligatory solo piano section towards the evening's close, this time featuring "Silent All These Years" and "Cooling."
While the night never really recovered the energy of the first several songs Amos performed in character, some signs pointed to the manner in which the "Doll Posse" concept has invigorated the singer. Wearing a spangly pantsuit and red wig as plainly artificial as "Santa"'s, Amos during the main body of their set seemed to be exploring the idea that "Tori Amos" is as much a character as the more freshly invented Pip, Santa, Isobel and Clyde. "Tori" isn't the name with which Amos was born, and as a way of reconciling her status as a songwriter who puts forth blunt questions about sex, gender and religion with her role as a mother to a young daughter, she seems to be more conscious of the divide between her public persona and private self.
It's past time for such a redefinition, as audience response to the various songs indicated -- cues left by Amos for them to fill in for "Cornflake Girl" were met with far more volume and enthusiasm than similar spaces in the new single "Big Wheel." As the set wore on and the singer continued to rely primarily on songs from her first three albums (and non-album material dating from the same period), one wondered whether "American Doll Posse" is a necessary step for Amos to begin writing at that level again, or just another completely impenetrable brainstorm like the cover album "Strange Little Girls," which also featured Amos assuming many differently costumed guises.
South African neo-folksinger Yoav opened with a mercifully short set of some of the worst songwriting seen demonstrated in a public space in recent memory; the guitarist's loop-pedal stunts were hardly enough to hide cliche-ridden lyrics and a lack of musical sophistication.
Here is Tori Amos' set list:
"Body and Soul"
"She's Your Cocaine"
"You Can Bring Your Dog"
"Professional Widow" (Instrumental)
"Silent All These Years"
"Putting the Damage On"