The first time I saw Tori Amos perform was 1994. I had just returned from performing in Asia and Little Earthquakes was one of three cassette tapes I’d taken with me to play in my Walkman. I’d laughed, cried and longed over Tori’s music for seven months straight. I’d learned to sing and play pretty much all of her songs and she was a wonderful role model; a talented, strong and sexy pianist whose gyrating at the grand piano made my young head spin.
I went along to the Festival Theatre with my sister and my dear friend, Peter. I remember Peter agonized over his tie, we missed the support act and my sister was livid. Tori appeared on stage, muttered something about masturbation and the church, performed solo for about an hour, walked offstage, walked back on, sang and played Cornflake girl to a backing track and walked off again. That was it. The audience was a bit stunned; around us, people were shaking their heads and wondering why she’d given us so little of herself. How had we pissed her off? I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was that had disgruntled us all; she’d played and sung beautifully. Maybe it was her manner? Her self-indulgent behaviour? My sister and I staged a brief protest trying to get her to play “China”, a favourite of ours she’d neglected to play, but it was in vain. Tori was gone.
Fast-forward twenty years. Whilst Tori and I hadn’t exactly had a falling out and her early albums are still regularly on my playlist, I didn’t really relate to her post-modern era and hadn’t taken the time to listen to anything of hers for much of this century. But, I chanced to see her concert advertised and on the spur of the moment decided to see if Tori had grown and could redeem herself.
This time my husband and I caught the support act and the tension in the room grew as we all awaited Tori’s arrival. A bespectacled Tori, clad in black leather pants and a wrap dress, still with the trademark red locks, entered the stage and the crowd erupted. She nodded acknowledgement at the audience, sat down to play and the magic began.
Equipped only with a grand piano and a keyboard placed behind her so she could switch between the two, often playing both at the same time, sitting astride the piano stool (hence the leather pants replacing her usual skirt; so no Beaver), Tori held the audience captivated for almost two hours. No mean feat. Her vocals changed from swooping, melodic highs to ugly sneers to bare whispers within a phrase; her sound engineer perfectly in tune with her vocal needs. A state of the art lighting show added to the theatrics, keeping beat with her syncopated rhythms and soaring countermelodies. I only knew about half a dozen songs, but loved them all. And when she played China, I wept openly; tears of pride for a fellow piano chick at her awesome best, tears of nostalgia as memories came flooding back and tears for Peter, who took his own life 9 years after our first Tori encounter. It was an emotive experience only wonderful music could give a person.
Like the first time I saw her, Tori again didn’t engage in conversation, other than muttering something about a guy called Sam. But this time her performance was real. She was a musician at her best, confident in her own headspace and well and truly enjoying her music. It was infectious.
So, in a world where information is so easily accessible and we hunger for it, did I again miss a running commentary of Tori’s music? Yes and no. Sure, it would’ve been nice to have heard the tales behind the songs, especially for some of the more cryptic ones and when her diction wasn’t clear. But, I remember once going to a temple in India and refusing repeated requests to have a guide with me, preferring my own company and interpretations from my own thoughts, rather than having constant chatter at my side. I loved letting my imagination run wild.
Maybe it was that Tori and I had come full circle, moving in the same direction. We are no longer insecure little upstarts with a chip on our shoulders. We are mature, confident women with a love of music and nothing to prove to anyone but ourselves. And when she sang a breathless rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, the question about why bluesbirds fly beyond the rainbow, why can’t I? was not rhetorical. It was a challenge, an invitation to see how far we can fly, how much we can achieve. I left the concert feeling uplifted and empowered.
Now, excuse me whilst I go and download some Tori to get myself up to speed. It’s long overdue.