It’s fair to say that maybe an Amanda Palmer live show isn’t everyone’s cup of char.
This was perfectly encapsulated in the faces of two students, staring in a state of befuddlement at the image in front of them on the stage: a man with white face paint slowly rising the floor, being tended to by what looked like extras from Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride, while a woman dressed in bra, corset, long flowing skirt and a foot in a plaster cast pounded away at a keyboard singing a downbeat song about unrequited love.
“Erm, do you want to go and get a beer in the Union?” said the first student. “Yeah…this is a bit too friggin’ weird for me” came the answer.
It’s unknown what delights lay instore at Sheffield Hallam University’s student union building, but it’s unlikely to have hosted anything as phenomenal as Amanda Palmer’s tour. The lead singer of ‘Brechtian punk’ duo The Dresden Dolls stated before her tour that her ultimate aim to be “beyond a rock show, more of a theatrical experience”, and if this show was anything to go by, she’s more than achieved that aim.
The set list took in most of the magnificent solo debut, Who Killed Amanda Palmer (although there was sadly no sign of standout track Leeds United), some old Dresden Dolls classics and a couple of unlikely cover versions (more of them later). It would have been good enough to see Palmer on her own performing, but her touring band gave the show an added depth that took this performance into the realms of the extraordinary.
As well as violinst Lyndon Chester and cellist Zoe Keating (who imbued Palmer’s songs with the necessary sense of beauty and darkness), there were also regular appearances from The Danger Ensemble, a performance art troupe from Australia.
The Danger Ensemble’s appearances ranged from the comic – playing air-guitar and throwing rock star shapes to Guitar Hero – to the disturbing, such as performing a macabre dance of death while dressed as schoolchildren during the powerful Strength Through Music, written about the Columbine school massacre.
Yet there never any doubt as to who the main focus of attention was on. Amanda Palmer is a captivating live performer, full of charisma and intensity as she hammered away at her keyboard like a thing possessed. Even the fact that she’d broken her foot the previous week in Ireland didn’t stop her, being carried around the stage and hobbling on crutches for the encore.
The fact that we were in the cosy Academy 2 lent the night a more intimate air as well, helped by Palmer’s easy banter with the audience, best encapsulated in the ‘Ask Amanda’ section. This was a particular highlight, giving rise to a very funny story about Amanda stripping naked and running onstage at Glastonbury to drunkenly snog Conor Obrest.
There were also solo performances of Dresden Dolls tracks, including a stunning Bad Habit and an ecstatically received version of Back Stabber, before the Danger Ensemble appeared to wander through the crowd carrying signs saying “Will Kiss For Kash” during a superb Coin-Operated Boy.
The near two hour running time also meant some rarities such as I Google You, a song co-written with author Neil Gaiman, a stunning interpretation of the Dresden’s Half Jack and, in probably the evening’s most bizarre turn, a cover of Rihanna‘s Umbrella with the Danger Ensemble carrying brollies and Amanda plucking away on a ukulele.
An encore saw support act Jason Webley re-appear to accompany Palmer on an acoustic version of Bon Jovi‘s Livin’ On A Prayer (yes, really), while the Danger Ensemble – who were on the tour unpaid – walked round the audience collecting change. An extraordinary evening, unlikely to be forgotten by the crowd crammed into the Academy. Bet you’re sorry you went to the Union now, eh lads?