Even the most lukewarm Tori Amos fan couldn’t fail to be impressed tonight, here in the grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall in the presence of the Metropole Orkest. It’s certainly a testament to how far this North Carolina girl has come, from the early days battling with record companies to performing in front of a near-packed out audience in one of London’s most prestigious venues. Amos’s love of adopting different personas is well-known, and for tonight’s illustrious surroundings she is the bespectacled musical eccentric – impish but focused, decked in diaphanous silk pyjamas with her trademark sky-high heels. She begins with ‘Flying Dutchman’, originally a B-side to 1992’s ‘China’ and now an unusual inclusion on recent release ‘Gold Dust’, a collection of re-orchestrated classics from the back catalogue. One minute in she stops abruptly to exclaim, “Oops, I fucked it up! Don’t worry, I’m here now!” before grinning at the audience and restarting.
This piece of theatre is the only “error” in a highly polished, professional performance that, like last year’s ‘Night of Hunters’ tour, stands in marked contrast to Amos’s traditional live approach which saw her improvising and deviating freely. Some numbers, such as ‘Winter’, have been tweaked just a little, while others have been given the full make-over. ‘Cloud on My Tongue’ benefits from some nice tempo changes and a staccato violin accompaniment – phrases are stretched and compressed, and as Amos repeats “circles and circles and circles again…” the orchestra builds to a tense emotional peak. ‘Marianne’ undergoes a similar alteration in timing, but it’s on the chorus that the Metropole is unleashed, weighing in with a shock of woodwind and brass and a powerful theatricality reminiscent of Holst’s feistier planets. In contrast, ‘Baker Baker’ is a sparse, faithful rendition and showcases a clear, confident vocal unblemished by the passage of time.
For ‘Ribbons Undone’, from 2001’s ‘The Beekeeper’, Amos indulges her love of piano trickery and showmanship, negotiating both the Bösendorfer and an electric keyboard. With a hand on each and her pedal foot stretched back to the piano, she co-ordinates her body as if it’s the most natural thing in the world to play two pianos at once. She continues to play them off against each other on ‘Hey Jupiter’, gyrating between the two instruments in a slightly muted reference to the erotic manner of playing for which she is famous. Other stand-out moments include a goosebump-evoking rendition of ‘Yes, Anastasia’, a frankly brilliant version of ‘Leather’ - the orchestra adding flesh layers to the unequivocal eroticism - and a well-received ‘Precious Things’ with its coruscating line, “So you can make me come, that doesn’t make you Jesus."
It’s a triumphant evening for an artist who has consistently thought outside the box, and is now exploding it from the inside. As she trips offstage in a rush of silk and flame red hair, the lasting impression is of a more mature, wiser, yet still musically mischievous Amos who is enjoying herself immensely.
Words by Theresa Heath
Photos by Olivia Ford