Live Music + Gig Reviews

Amanda Palmer @ Electric Ballroom, London

4 February 2009

Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer

Being in the city that collapsed just days earlier because of some frozen rain, it seems appropriate that we’re greeted on Camden High Street by people in animal masks, a man dressed as what appears to be the rabbit from Alice In Wonderland and an awful lot of make-up. It’s NW1’s very own Goth winter wonderland.

It’s not just a busy afternoon in the market either. Amanda Palmer‘s dedicated and evidently adolescent fanbase make sterling efforts to liven up the dingy sticky-floor aura of the Electric Ballroom too.

First up though is Detektivbyrn, who hail from Sweden. We know this because we are reminded of the fact roughly 367 times during their short performance. The three-piece make a pleasant Beirut-ish plod of things but ultimately none of the songs go anywhere. The use of a pair of scissors as percussion fails to liven things up either, but their obvious excitement about playing here (their first ever gig in the UK) is charming to witness.

After a lengthy wait, where the audience are left to amuse themselves whilst staring at a cloud of smoke, Palmer eventually appears with a polite nod and a wave. Minus a band, she has the daunting task of making her solo material (as well as the sprinkle of Dresdedn Dolls numbers that rear their head) translate through the keyboard and occasionally, with violins.

The early signs are promising – Palmer, sporting a grey blazer and little else, breezes though the likes of Backstabber and Guitar Hero with vigour and charm, leaping on and off her stool when she sees fit and genuinely engaging when having a dig at Londoners’ response to the snow (“I’m from Boston, I was looking forward to going somewhere without snow for once.”)

This magnetism however soon becomes stale when she unleashes a mini-rant (in her own words) on UK TV and radio stations’ refusal to play her new single Oasis, on the grounds that it trivialised date rape and abortion. Palmer’s argument that even the darkest subjects have a humorous side is a valid one, but one can’t help but think we’re being preached to here. She finds light in the situation by playing a slow ballad version of the track, insinuating the track would be more radio friendly were it not juxtaposing a grim subject matter with such bouncy hooks.

But frustration only grows when mid-set an auction is held to sell a photo to raise money for her dancers, The Danger Ensemble. This is a bizarre move in itself – the punters have paid their money already, why is she asking for more? And why take up 15 minutes of a set when an auction could easily have taken place online or through other channels? Dedicating 10 minutes to give out a phone number for a mailing list is another kick in the teeth. People have come to see you sing, not dictate.

The gig never picks up again after this and her decision to cover the likes of Tegan and Sara as well as My Favourite Things from The Sound Of Music just makes it all the more disappointing when a host of her own material has been ignored.

Bewildered and disappointed, we’re finally allowed to leave, two hours after the show began, having witnessed a set of two thirds music, the rest a shambolic mess. Palmer’s dedicated fanbase clearly still saw this as a memorable evening but when she smacks of this much self-importance it will be difficult to pick up any new devotees.

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More on Amanda Palmer
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Spotlight: Amanda Palmer – The Art Of Asking
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Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under