(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, July 5, 2010

DVD review - Tori Amos, Live from the Artists Den (2010)

WNET's Live from the Artists Den is a public TV music series that focuses on unique artists, each performing in an intimate, unconventional venue. This DVD release coincides with the second season of this series, showcasing a Tori Amos concert at the landmark Veterans Room of New York's Park Avenue Armory. The new season is starting this week and will feature additional artists, like Ringo Starr, Corinne Bailey Rae, the Black Crows, and others. This Tori Amos DVD is coming out on July 13. The concert will be shown during the regular season, but the DVD package includes two extra songs, an interview with Amos, and a scrapbook of backstage pictures and history of the venue.

A select group of 100 fans were invited to the show, providing an audience to inspire Amos' performance while maintaining an intimate feel. The camera preserves this sense, remaining unobtrusive but capturing every nuance of Amos' expression. Tori performed a solo set on piano and electric keyboard. This was an introspective set, foregoing some of her more athletic performance moves. Sometimes, she flinched like a wild creature caught under our gaze. Sometimes, she took control and shared a coy grin. Above all, her voice was front and center: strong and demanding, then bruised and expressive. At times, she wrenched the music out of body, just like she forced out the lyrics. It was an enthralling show.

There were snippets of interview at the start and throughout the DVD, but the music was the key focus. One particularly interesting comment was about the piano:
I'm drawn to getting to know different ones. They bring different things out of you. The piano plays me, I do not play it.
The setlist spanned her career, from China and Girl (off 1992's Little Earthquakes) to Ophelia and Maybe California (from 2009's Abnormally Attracted to Sin). Despite the range, the songs were well chosen to create a flow.

Girl on Live from the Artists Den: Tori Amos from Artists Den on Vimeo.

The show begins with a rarity, Ruby Through the Looking Glass. It's rhythmic and soothing. Amos' voice is knowing and a little accusing:
When I said I wanted it all,
Doesn't every woman want it all?
As a man, do you find,
Doesn't every boy smoke to cry?
It's a strong start, with tension perfectly build and expressed. She throws in a whisper of tension to season the mix.

This is immediately followed by China. It's a little slower than the album version, with pauses and a tentative feel. The deep, repeating chords breathe through the verses. To bring in the strings, Amos plays her electric keyboard with her right hand as she maintains the arpeggiated piano part with her left hand. Playing two different keyboards at once is not so technically challenging, but the voicing, the arrangement, and the balancing interaction between the two parts is phenomenal. Her transitions between the piano and playing both keyboards are so smooth and effortless.

Near the end of the set, Amos plays Bells For Her. During the intro, she kicks her head back, entranced. This beautiful piece is dreamlike (...can't stop what's coming/can't stop what's on its way). Repetitive, looping parts and chanted lyrics build a sense of slow motion detachment. This is powerful and moving.

As Amos mentions in her interview, her touring and live performances are why she's still popular and relevant. This show serves as a great example. Sip a fine tawny port and watch Tori play Live from the Artists Den. The music is great; it's a fine addition to her catalog.

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