There’s nothing like a completely seated gig to make you feel you’re about to witness something pretty special. There’s not even a photo pit to speak of, the press corps being made to stand at the back in case they block the view of the audience, because a seated crowd must be able to see. It’s an audience very much in the know, discussions abound about last night’s Cork setlist which was posted online; cultured folk who already have gold dust Kate Bush comeback tickets arguing the merits of knowing what an artist will play before the concert starts. An imposing Bösendorfer piano dominates the stage and the Olympia tannoy counting down the minutes until the gig resumes all add to the sense of expectation. We’re all here for the Unrepentant Geraldines tour, the trip to promote Tori Amos’ fourteenth studio album. Pre-orders are in, this week’s concert footage has been scoured and preview streams have been listened to but a savvy audience knows a few brand new surprises may be up her sleeve, especially as we’re only on the second show of the tour.
It’s Earth Mother Tori who finally appears, a flowing dark cotton gown enlivened by a fireworks pattern emblazoned all over it, a touch of cheekiness in the waist-high split revealing her brown leather leggings and brown heels which are shown off to great effect throughout, caressing the underside of the piano. Of course, it’s this juxtaposition that underpins all her music – classically-inspired delicacy, rolling angry thunder and formidable sexuality. She opens with ‘Parasol’, a crashing seascape of a song. Tempos are played with, words drawn out to delicious effect and the highest of notes are attacked with fervour, there’s no slow build here as she takes no prisoners right from the outset, a blissful smile on her face. ‘Ireland’ raises yelps from the crowd, Amos straddling her stool and seamlessly switching between piano to electric keyboard, the electronics adding to the psychedelia of the described journeys.
A bonus of playing both instruments together, one hand at each means that Tori faces her audience with no obstacle between, knowing flashes of leg and faux-bashful glasses glances work the audience as she nonchalantly milks every space out of ‘Silent All These Years’, a creeping tension brought on by seemingly unconscious repetition of certain phrases, making it as if she’s living in the moment, retelling the story for the first time. It’s a performance masterclass as she barely speaks to the audience for songs at a time, then suddenly drops them a wink, a joyful glance that says everything. Vocal fragility lulls us into a false sense of security but such delicacy never lasts long, soon lost in the powerhouse.
Miley Cyrus cover ‘Rooting For My Baby’ is announced with the disclaimer that she’s never played it live before and that she ‘may screw it up’. We’re fairly sure she won’t though, as we’ve rarely been in such safe hands and instead of worrying we drink it in, the lyrical excuses of “you go through a lot” chilling us in our seated haven. It’s tough to pinpoint the pinnacle of extreme emotion in this show. Things aren’t gradually ratcheted up, instead it peaks throughout with little eyes of calm breaking the tension, like a temper tantrum. The uncomfortably eerie ‘Purple People’ succeeds as a pindrop moment on a night when everyone is being careful not to drop any pins. The reverie is broken with a piano-slapping, saloon girl version of ‘Leather’, a hooting and howling audience awakened as Tori actresses her way through the song while a Hammond organ is unobtrusively wheeled onstage for her to play with. Blues-inspired ‘In The Springtime Of His Voodoo’ is exceptionally performed, an audience unable to look anywhere else as a clearly delighted Amos lets loose with banshee wails.
The encore can’t compete really, although new single ‘Trouble’s Lament’ gives a damn good try, rolling drama with a witty New Orleans feel that just needs to build up familiarity and reputation before being welcomed with open arms. A shellshocked audience afterwards reflect that they didn’t hear ‘Cornflake Girl’ or ‘Crucify’ as last night’s audience did, but isn’t it better not to know what you’re going to hear? The Cork setlist didn’t spoil all surprises. And surprises are everything.
Tori Amos photographed for State by Isabel Thomas.