Much like public perception of Amanda Palmer herself, her return to Belfast is a mixture of sophisticated and brash from the start – the neatly lined chairs at odds with the voice from the merchandise area loudly proclaiming “if anyone has a question for Amanda we have a box here”. Questions are for later though, as she appears nonchalantly from the dressing room, only gradually noticed by the audience in a slow-motion Mexican wave of double takes. She’s strumming her ukulele as she promenades down the room and enters crowd territory of the aisle between seat rows when the strum gradually becomes Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. In case we weren’t sure we were allowed to, she tells us we can join in with the chorus that when sang triumphantly celebrates beautiful freaks like Palmer and her fans.
Sections are true wry cabaret, especially the ukulele parts. Soft whispers meet strident vocal blasts and eyebrows are often raised at the audience, eyebrows that tend to be more in control when she’s seated at her piano. As she admits herself though, anyone could learn ukulele in an hour so the extra effort it takes to play the piano is matched with the extra depth of emotion it takes to play those songs. Except, maybe, for ‘Bigger On The Inside’. It’s a strummer, and raises the question if it’s the words or music that makes Amanda Palmer… Amanda Palmer. We’re sure it’s a mixture of both, and if one is lost, then you have nothing. No-one will display emotion at this two-chord extended edit. Until you realise that the sing-song sameyness doesn’t stop you caring about the French child in the lyrics, a violent sort of caring that wrenches the tears from your eyes.
And this is the beauty of Palmer. There’s the unmistakably sexual inhalations before she starts a song. There’s the more than perfect hair, a delicate gold gown covered with an evening jacket. There’s the splayed legs behind the piano, splayed because they have to be, but do they have to be quite so outstretched, cheekbones so icy-sharp and facial expressions so wild? But the living cartoon that she sometimes appears to be – and her performances thrive on this – can also make us feel. A comical ‘Vegemite’ segues into ‘Bed Song’ and all humour is sucked from us. It’s this command of emotions and desire to be heard, presumably, that led to the next string on Palmer’s bow: writing a book. Technically, this is the last show of her The Art Of Asking book tour. But as her merch stall has sold out of books and it emerges that no bookshops in Belfast stock it, focus on the book has ultimately drifted. She brings it back with what we expect to be a cursory mention of the book, a rote reading. A member of the audience blindly picks a page and when Palmer begins to read we wonder if the page was somehow marked because it’s so perfect. A tale of vomiting, abortion regret and husband Neil Gaiman’s childhood.
A gig wouldn’t be a gig without a nod to the future though. This includes a respectful mention for Palmer’s pregnant belly, which limits future plans excitingly. Before baby appears though, plans involve supporting Morrissey and gently mocking him in a kindly, musical way. The main plan that shows there will be music after baby though, revolves around Patreon. Palmer’s previous success with Kickstarter for the Theatre Is Evil album – has led her to set up the platform, in which your financial support gets you free music for life.
The show finishes with ‘Ukulele Anthem’ which is, unsurprisingly, an anthem for the knitters, the Match.com ad lovers, the outside-the-boxers. It reminds us – if the rest of the show hadn’t already, which given the pin-drop silence and the hands brushing tears away from eyes it seems it has – that if we’d wondered if we’d outgrown the artist we needed as a teen we can brush that worry away. We’ve grown with Palmer and she’s returned the favour.