Perhaps best known for her punk cabaret duo, The Dresden Dolls, for her crowd-funding expertise, her mesmerising videos, or even her recent world-first public performance at the Mona Foma festival in Launceston, where for several days she sat in a small cubicle listening to members of the public confide their deepest, darkest secrets, Amanda Palmer is a one-of-a-kind performer who defies categorisation.
Described as a singer, songwriter, musician, author and performance artist, her powerful songs tackle head-on, the big questions like abortion and rape. To watch her perform them in person, sitting alone at a grand piano is an unsettling, and certainly memorable, experience.
Her concert was entitled There will be no Intermission. Thankfully there was one. It lasted 20 minutes, in a marathon concert that ran for four hours. Much of that time was taken up with Palmer assaulting the Steinway with enough ferocity to spark doubts as to whether it would survive the concert, while belting out lyrics so over-amplified that most were unintelligible. This was a shame, because when they could be understood, her lyrics sounded tantalisingly perceptive.
For the most part though, after opening her show, surprisingly with mischievous version of My Favourite Things from The Sound of Music, she stood at the front of the stage, bathed in the inevitable haze necessary for the impressive rock-star lighting, and talked to her audience.
A charismatic story teller, Palmer’s eyes brim with tears as she confides details of her sexual awakening, at fourteen, at the hands of the Corrupter. Her stories are powerful and deeply confessional. You could have heard a pin drop as she described, in harrowing detail, her three abortions, her miscarriages and the death of her best friend and therapist, Anthony, before expertly releasing the tension, with a flourish of sardonic humour, earning relieved laughter from her audience.
Occasionally she would punctuate the stories by returning to the piano to belt out one of her songs to underline a point. Among them It Runs in the Family with its unsettling repetitive Me Up refrain, Straight (with Strings) and the disturbing A Mother’s Confession which ends with the lyric But at least the baby didn’t die.
After commencing the second half of the program with her ear-worm, Coin Operated Boy, she ignored audience calls for more of her songs, preferring to continue with her stories, which felt a bit risky, and smacked of self-indulgence. However, she did perform, (again surprisingly), a sardonic, screeching version of Let If Go from Frozen before ending the concert gently with an encore, which neatly summed up the evening. It was called The Ride.
Amanda Palmer – There will be no Intermission
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Friday 7 February 2020
Amanda Palmer continues her Australian tour performing in Adelaide (14 – 15 February), Sydney (20 February), Perth (22 February) and Darwin (29 February). For more information, visit: www.amandapalmer.net for details.
Image: Amanda Palmer – photo by Allan Amato
Review: Bill Stephens OAM