Photographs by Katrina Wong Shue.
Is it possible to call the show messy without negative connotations? At Lee’s Palace on the final stop of her Art of Asking book tour, Amanda Palmer may have justified it. Holding aloft a red ukulele, a bottle of red wine in the other hand, it was clear that she was here in presence and spirits. As an artist who seems to tenaciously cling to the strength of fallibility, her improvisational adaptability only reinforced her modus operandi. Embracing the possibility of failure for the joy of its potential, she wasn’t afraid to take an idea and run with it. Thanks to a hearing impaired Twitter fan, Toronto’s performance involved a gifted and animated interpreter (also co-incidentally named Amanda). Between relating book excerpts, song lyrics or general banter, the gamble paid out, at times getting hilariously self-aware. “How do you sign cuddling?” Asked Palmer “spooning?”
Well received passages from her book were peppered with musical performances from throughout her career. Opening with an apology “this first bit’s gonna be a little uncomfortable”, she warmed into a timely cover of Public Enemy’s Fuck the Police. Defending an artist’s right to reinterpret the work of anyone who inspires them, she launched into the song it led her to write: Do You Swear To Tell The Truth The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass. Solo track Runs in the Family received a huge response, but the night really belonged to a stunning rendition of 2006 Dresden Dolls’ song Delilah, supported by friend/road manager Whitney Moses. Between the reading and rhythm wires sometimes crossed. During a moment shifting bemusedly between her uke and book, she had trouble deciding. A short-lived attempt at singing a story may not have panned out, but her loving and abiding audience had only affection for the effort.
There was no way the interview portion would’ve emerged from the shadow of Ghomeshi unscathed. Previously booked as the interviewer, she admitted that while she would talk to anyone, his presence would shift the event too far from its subject matter. Given the importance of the issue, she extended a hand through social media to anyone qualified to talk on supporting women facing adversity. Thanks to the help of Australia’s YWCA Adelaide, Sasha from YWCA Toronto made it onstage to raise awareness.
Without Jian, SiriusXM’s Eric Alper stood in his place, enthusiastic to be there. Reinforcing a story calling for people to accept help in the form of “taking a donut”, he brought 700 of the sugary baubles with him to share. Unfortunately, enthusiasm alone doesn’t make for a great interview. Clearly intent on pursuing his predetermined questions rather than listening to Palmer’s responses, his questions often took the form of waffling self-indulgent monologues laden with name dropping, questions hastily tagged on the end. Without guidance, Amanda’s sincere and well-intentioned expression often veered without purpose. She had wonderfully lofty things to say, but they sometimes had trouble finding their way back to earth. An interesting night which was nonetheless exciting, The Art of Asking was expressed to an enthusiastically permissive crowd.