Arts

Review: Amanda Palmer

Carly Susman
Staff Writer

Amanda Palmer’s reputation as a revolutionary artist has taken her from Boston street performer and college dropout to musician and full-time internet sensation selling out multiple shows on tour.  From its Kickstarter beginnings, it was clear that Amanda Palmer’s second complete solo endeavor, Theatre Is Evil, was going to be groundbreaking in more ways than one.  Offering compensations including shows in donors homes, the artist was the first to raise over 1 million dollars using Kickstarter to make her dreams of an record label-independant album into a reality.

Amanda Palmer performing one of her songs live at a concert in DC. (Photo: Carly Susman).


A progressive, her talent and style have been consistently incomparable to others in the music industry.  Although her use of Kickstarter to fund her project is ground-breaking, Palmer is no stranger to innovation.  She began her career as a musician in punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls.  Since then, she has embarked on many an ambitious project including the creation of a Neutral Milk Hotel-themed high school musical and being an artist-in-residence at Bard College, to name a few.  Although she is most prominently known as a pianist, Palmer has expanded her horizons to include the ukulele, which she used for a Radiohead cover album, and alternating playing all of the instruments on stage during her current Theatre Is Evil tour.
With the help of her Grand Theft Orchestra, Theatre Is Evil continues to move away from the older, grungy style to what is similar to a more refined sound reminiscent of the 80’s while still retaining Palmer’s passion and lyrical genius.  “Grown Man Cry,” whose instrumentation reminded me of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence,” is one of multiple songs on the album that discuss relationships from an unusual angle.  Another is “Bed Song” which explores a relationship from its beginnings when they first shared a sleeping bag and then progresses as the couple upgrades sleeping surfaces while they grow older.  “Berlin” explores another facet of intimacy from when Palmer worked as a stripper named Berlin.
She collaborated with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne on the video for “Do It With A Rockstar” which has yet to be released.  In the meantime, the video for “Want It Back,” a stop-motion animation of the lyrics that begins with them written on her nude body, is an example of Amanda’s promotion of body-positive values.  Her level of confidence and comfort in her own skin is an inspiring and valuable message to listeners of all ages.
Palmer’s enthusiasm for audience participation and DIY blurs the lines between performer and viewer.  On this tour, she collects slips of paper from the audience with sad or bad things that happened in their bedrooms, reads them aloud and records them on her iPhone.  Then during her performance of Yaz’s “In My Room,” sings and simultaneously plays the recording into the microphone.  She additionally had the drumset connected to a slideshow of fan-submitted images that progressed with the beat.  Amanda Palmer’s live performances give the audience an incredible rush of energy that does not leave when she exits the stage.

Amanda Palmer strikes a pose at her DC concert. (Photo: Carly Susman).

Her open call for tour musicians has sparked recent controversy.  Palmer asked those who were interested to volunteer their time to play with her Grand Theft Orchestra.  While some would value this as an incredibly worthwhile experience, other musicians and fans were upset that she offered no monetary compensation, especially because they knew how much she made off of her Kickstarter project.  Palmer addressed the problem in an open letter in which she said “Especially in this day and age, it’s becoming more and more essential that artists allow each other space to figure out their own systems.  The minute YOU make black and white rules about how other artists should value their own art and time, you disempower them.”  She elaborated on her Kickstarter page, “In no f****** case scenario do I get a check for $1,000,000 and laugh my way to the bank, then book a private jet to Ibiza where a limo filled with hookers and blow will be waiting to escort me to a slamming nightclub called “La Uno Percento” where I then spend my time contemplating my handsome nose job in the darkened mirrored bathrooms (probably weeping).”  She continues, “And you know what else?
If I wind up truly loaded someday, it means I’ll probably buy an abandoned church somewhere and turn it into a free 24-hour circus brunch bar for everybody. Cross your f****** fingers. We’ll all win.”

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