Only at an Amanda Palmer gig would you turn up early to find a brass band in the standing area playing dance hits while rocking Victorian chic. The Horn Dog Brass Band are ensuring that even those who turn up two hours before tonight's headliners are thoroughly entertained, not that it will be two hours before we see our stars. More supports and musical interludes than Clash has ever seen are on tonight, Palmer appearing each time to introduce them admitting, “I'm ruining the rule of climax, but hey I like introducing my friends.”
As any lucky enough to attend the group’s Village Underground show a few months prior will testify, the atmosphere at an AFP concert is more akin to a convention or niche community meeting. Fans sit on the balcony serenading each other with colourful ukuleles, swapping past gig exploits while arguing the merits and de-merits of certain tracks and shows with open geekery.
Inside, bassist Jherek Bischoff plays an infectious number from his own album with lyrics by none other than David Byrne soon followed by Palmer's Boston housemate playing a spooky ballad. Some more guests and remixed Banshee tunes played and it's finally time to get things truly under way, the four piece band emerging with full string and horn backing, bursting into an apocalyptic 'Intro'. The cinematic noise fills the sold out KOKO, all present stand in awe, aware that this is a whole new level for Palmer and her cohorts. This is truly the big time.
A blistering version of 'Smile' follows, lyrics screamed from the balcony and then once again an instrument swapping run through The Dresden Dolls’ hit 'Missed Me'. That extra dash of performance art really does make things so much more fun.
A spine tingling 'Astronaut' with guest Una on Violin proves arguably the night’s highlight, whole band locked into the melodies with almost terrifying ferocity. Then things turn odd, a box is presented, a box filled with painful secrets. Willing fans were asked to submit terrible memories of their bedrooms in the box before the show and now Amanda is reading them aloud under spotlight. It's a brave move, at first the English stoic attitude tries to laugh it off, many retreat to the bar but there is no escape, many begin to break down, people embrace and some just feel sad and confused. It certainly packs a punch and leaves all in a suitably sombre mood for upcoming 'The Bed Song' and beautiful 'Trout Heart Replica'.
The mood is lifted by crowd surfing in giant dresses that engulfs half the standing area, a very unexpected but welcome guest appearance from Scroobius Pip reading 'Letter from God to Man', and the ever delightful Neil Gaiman performing silly saw-filled song 'Psycho.' Time getting on, some drift away worried about the tubes but most stay until the end, and quite rightly so. Tonight's been a truly unique show; all Palmer's promises of an interactive and stimulatingly theatrical show have been fulfilled. Things can only get better.
Words by Sam Walker-Smart
Photos by Rachel Lipsitz