Photos by Katrina Lat
There’s an air of hushed fragility mixed with the dull roar of friendly conversation. The lights go down and Amanda Palmer sashayes on stage brandishing a glass of wine as if to ward off the fragilities of life. As she sits down at the piano bench she’s greeted with the roar of a very friendly audience. She pauses as we calm ourselves; “Oh my god, it’s going to be a long night”. To which someone responded with several enthusiastic “woo’s”. Before attending the business of the evening Palmer requests someone periscope the show. Then she returns her attentions to the wider crowd: “this is a democratic rock show”. Daring someone to challenge her, she’s greeted by nothing other than vigorous and jubilant accord.
“It’s not ok, but it’s fine” she whispers into the mike before launching into a touching tribute to the recently deceased Leonard Cohen. Her rich, low voice reaches out with “You’ve got me singing even though the news is bad”. The audience leans in accepting, even endorsing the promise of intimacy despite both the crowd size and the austere venue. As the last chords trail off into the darkness there is a feeling of emotional exhaustion. We revel in the darkness and silence, before acknowledging our own emotional fragility with applause, scant at first that builds into a boisterous accolade.
Palmer launches into another Cohen tribute: Everybody Knows. As he lashes the audience with the opening lines: “The Dice are Loaded” the anger in her voice is palpable and contagious. There is a groundswell of sympathetic frustration throughout the crowd. She cracks, as if unable to contain herself shouting “The fight was fixed”. Her playing softens and she retreats into soft silence.
After an emotional silence she addresses the audience as one would an old friend. Comfortable with traces of sadness, emanating an understated message of unity to the crowd she asks that those who brought a tribute to Leonard Cohen place their gifts to his memory on the stage. She then lays a small ukulele case on the stage, seats her self at the piano and begins to play a nameless tune. Mourners pass by laying their tokens down. The hall takes on the weight of a funeral as we share the burden of grief.
As if to counteract the dark emotions that now permeate our consciousness she launches into one of her own works The Killing Type. The piano comes in with a meandering almost simplistic melody before devolving into powerful chords that drive the lyrics forwards. Swishing her hair enthusiastically she draws us in again with a more intimate performance of Ampersand, a dissociative happy sound despite the underpinning sadness of the lyrics. Palmer slides seamlessly into her next piece with sounds of false optimism that degrades rapidly as the lyric narrative darkens.
Palmer pauses briefly for another talking break, discussing with the audience her emotional status and further feelings. As she does this she leaves the piano picking up a ukulele, and brandishes it towards us as if it were a prize she had won. She launches into a self-described “two chord political song” also known as The Map of Tasmania during which the audience shouts back the refrain. After this rousing moment she chooses to recite a poem by Ani DiFranco:
When I was four years old
they tried to test my I.Q.
they showed me a picture
of 3 oranges and a pear
which one is different?
It does not belong
they taught me different is wrong
After a somber delivery Palmer invites a member of the Planned Parenthood community to address the audience . The appeal segues into a rousing call to the liberal left for unity in the face of adversity culminating in Palmer reminding us that as a musician it is her job to speak out about what she believes in. Her husband Neil Gaiman then comes forward to read Leonard Cohen’s Democracy as a spoken piece with sparse pianistic accompaniment. Her final programed song is prefaced by an anecdotal moment she shares. It is about Chris Hadfield and before launching into an aggressive piano approximation of punk., she backs off the sound. The harmonies become sparser as she begins to sing, slowly building back up to the aggressive climactic moment.
As the night draws to an end Palmer asks the audience for a request to close the show. Amidst the tumultuous shouting that follows she picks up on one voice that requests Berlin. The audience erupts in applause at the final chords then falls dutifully into a chant requesting the encore.
Amanda Palmer returns to the stage, seats herself at the piano. She speaks: “You’re going to hear this a lot, don’t get tired of it”. She strokes the keys slowly, drawing out the opening chords before launching into a very honest, raw rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Replete with raw exhausting moments and whispered verses, it is almost as if she finds the words simply too painful to voice fully. The lights fade to black and we depart not entirely willingly into that good night.