Tori Amos

Royal Albert Hall, London on Wednesday 2 November 2011

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Tori Amos, the American flame-haired, piano-playing singer-songwriter, the forerunner to Florence Welch, is in the midst of a world tour showcasing her twelfth studio album 'Night of the Hunter'. Amos came to prominence in the early '90s with her debut album 'Little Earthquakes' and had several hit singles around that time. She's kept a relatively low profile since then, although she tours regularly and has a faithful fan-base, evidenced by tonight's near sell out of the elegant Royal Albert Hall, where she apparently last played in 1998. My seat is in the back row of the circle, as high as you can get without standing in the gallery and isn't to be recommended if you suffer from vertigo but still there’s a good view and the sound is excellent, apart from a couple of blips mid-set with some fuzzy feedback on the piano.

Amos' set opens with the Polish string quartet, Apollon Musagète, consisting of two violins, a cello and viola, playing next to a grand piano which sits centre-stage. Amos glides in after a couple of minutes in a full-length floaty frock and launches in to the disturbing and dramatic 'Shattering Sea'.

I have trouble reconciling this Tori Amos with the one I remember from the '90s, she looks so different, but subsequent investigation reveals that she has had some "work done" which might explain it. Irrelevant to the music I know, but a shame that a feisty female role model would feel the need to literally deface herself! Amos twists on her piano stool throughout the show so that she's facing the audience and also swivels around to play the keys placed behind her, sometimes simultaneously with the piano. She has a very distinctive voice, ranging from breathy and sensual to girlish and falsetto. She showcases songs from the new album which are apparently inspired by classical pieces spanning the last 400 years. I'm not a classical music aficionado but the arrangements of Amos' new songs with the piano, keys and the strings are all beautiful, some quite powerfully dramatic like the opener and others mournful like 'Your Ghost'.

Amos throws in some crowd-pleasing oldies – there's total silence in the auditorium for 'Silent All These Years', and cheers of recognition for 'Precious Things' and 'Leather'. There are also a couple of covers - a burst of 'Scarborough Fair' near the beginning of the set and an excellent rendition of Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' during the encore, which is hardly recognisable to begin with as the words can be heard clearly and the pace is slowed to transform it in to a piano ballad. The main set closes with a storming 'Cruel' with some fast, frenetic playing by the first violin.

She plays one of my all time favourite songs during the first half of the encore, 'Winter', which I expect to be very poignant with the strings behind it but it seems to lose some of its impact maybe because of Amos' strange inflection and over-enunciation of some of the words, which is distracting and makes it difficult to feel the emotion.

There's been minimal interaction with the audience but at the very end when most of the crowd are giving a standing ovation, Amos shakes a few hands, and jumps up and down waving in appreciation.

The world tour continues with another London show tomorrow night and then a couple more UK dates, before heading to the US, via South Africa.

Set list:

Shattering Sea
Scarborough Fair
Suede
Velvet Revolution
Nautical Twilight
Leather
Beauty Queen/Horses (solo)
Marianne (solo)
Mr Zebra (solo)
Fearlessness
Cloud On My Tongue
Star Whisperer
Silent All These Years (solo)
Bells For Her (solo)
Way Down (solo)
Hey Jupiter
Your Ghost
Precious Things
Cruel

***

A Multitude Of Shades (Apollon Musagète)
Winter

***

Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana cover) (solo)
Siren
Big Wheel

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article by: Helen O Sullivan

published: 04/11/2011 09:01