Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra brought the Theater Is Evil tour to the intimate Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix on Saturday, September 22. It was a night filled with laughter, tears, and hijinks with a stuffed tiger who Amanda said looked like a ginormous tampon, and the audience subsequently named Maxi.
Palmer, formerly of the Dresden Dolls (with drummer Brian Viglione) and Evelyn Evelyn (with singer/songwriter Jason Webley), appeared with Grand Theft Orchestra members Jherek Bischoff (bass), Chad Raines (guitar), and Michael McQuilken (drums).
Always an innovator, Palmer, now (in)famously*, put out a call for strings and horn players in each tour city to join the band on stage for several numbers, and the Phoenix-area musicians that appeared for this show were enthusiastic, talented, and treated with warmth and appreciation by the band and audience, alike.
It was an all-in-the-Orchestra night; the opening acts were Bischoff (ultimately joined by the local strings, horns, Raines and McQuilken), followed by Raines’ band The Simple Pleasure (joined by Bischoff), and capped off, with aplomb, by Ronald Reagan, “Boston’s premier ’80s pop saxophone duo”. The photo gallery features all the fun.
Palmer and the GTO moved the audience between laughter, cynicism, and sorrow with selections from their new release, Theater Is Evil,as well as favorites from Palmer’s solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? and older Dresden Dolls favorites.
The audience was invited to participate by contributing their pain via a pad of paper and a box at the merch table with a sign: “Write something sad that happened in your room.” Silence held court over the audience as Palmer softly read selected entries such as “My sister kicked a hole in the wall when mom came home drunk again,” and “I gave up.” The reading lead into a terrifically moving rendition of “Trout Heart Replica” followed by Palmer’s incredible crowd-surf during “Bottomfeeder.” Trailing a long train of diaphanous fabric, Palmer was borne up by the audience members’ hands as she traversed the crowd.
After being gently returned to the stage, Palmer elicited more sighs and tears with “The Bed Song,” a bittersweet timeline of love through first blush in a shared sleeping bag to final resting place.
Sweet relief came in the form of a sexy, rollicking cover of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper,” during which Amanda staged a saxophone showdown between the members of Ronald Reagan,
and then played a role-reversal, handing tour videographer Sarah the mic, while Amanda took control of the camera. I haven’t seen Amanda’s footage, but Sarah nailed the vocals.
Finally, as the closing number of the two song encore, Amanda brought the audience together to sing the cynical, yet rousing, “Leeds United.”
If, as the title of the album claims, theater is, indeed, evil, then this was an evil show. Palmer, along with her band, brought more than music to Phoenix; they brought theater and art, participation and emotion. Performances like this are what give a “fringe” artist such as Amanda Palmer the ability to raise more than $1mm in kickstarter funds. Performances like this are why Amanda Fucking Palmer deserves the support of her following: She earns it.
*All musicians were paid for their services. The ‘kerfluffle’ will not be addressed by this review, and has been, I hope put to rest by now.
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