London’s Victoria Apollo theatre has been home to the smash hit musical ‘Wicked’ since 2006. But on 18th July 2010, for one night only, it housed the delightful Tori Amos and her legions of devoted fans.
And what an odd sight it was indeed. The set of ‘Wicked’ is contained mostly outside of the stage; looming over the proscenium arch is a huge dragon and jutting out from the bottom are massive cogs and gears. This was going to be an interesting setting for an interesting performance.
The support act was, perhaps, a misjudged choice; a male singer-songwriter who claimed never to have actually met Tori Amos. This shattered my illusions of established acts plucking younger artists from obscurity and giving them the opportunity to play the big time. Evidently this guy was picked by the promotions company, or a computer, or an octopus or something. His music was somewhat bland yet inoffensive; he seemed to be aiming for Dylan but was stuck somewhere near Paolo Nutini. I don’t get the feeling he was enjoyed too much by the crowd.
Naturally, we were over it by the time Tori appeared – resplendent in shiny gold leggings, her flaming red mane glowing even from our view way up in the circle. Don’t worry, the view didn’t end up being a problem in the end — we happened to find some opera glasses that the previous occupants of our seats had dropped. We could see Tori up close and saved ourselves a quid. That’s my idea of a good night.
Curiously, Tori launched straight into a set of her most sombre and introspective songs. The mournful ‘Bells For Her’ gave way to one of her biggest but most downbeat hits, ‘Silent All These Years’, and this was followed by some pretty devastating renditions of ‘Hey Jupiter’ and ‘Northern Lad’. These songs work on record because of their sheer power of the vocal, so hearing them in this setting proved a moving experience — there were tears from several people around us.
During my last Tori Amos experience, roughly a year ago, it was a comparatively more upbeat evening. This may have been because she was promoting her latest album so the set list contained many newer songs that, while still excellent, don’t have the edge of her older stuff. This time around there was not much music from her last couple of albums, and the songs she did pick were relatively subdued. This meant the crowd were left to clap along in earnest to ‘Spacedog’ and ‘Take To The Sky’, much to our amusement.
All in all, the intimate nature of the evening served to draw us all closer together and really pay attention to what Tori was saying. Her music is sprawling and her lyrics are famously dense, so the opportunity to see them live is one to be relished. We were even party to a rare performance of ‘Me And A Gun’, Tori’s harrowing a capella account of her own rape. This was pretty heavy duty, but utterly spellbinding. Even when the girl next to us attempted, clumsily, to leave her seat during the song. She was seated by my companion with the immortal phrase “No one interrupts ‘Me And A Gun'”. Fantastic.
Biggest surprises of the evening? Not a ‘Cornflake Girl’ in site. I know, I couldn’t believe it either. But we were treated to a cover of ‘Personal Jesus’ as an encore. Which just about made up for it. The gig was not what I expected, but with Tori Amos it never is; that’s just part of the fun.