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Love her or hate her, one thing listeners could agree on about Tori Amos was her conviction and passionate intensity. It might have been easy to mock her mannered vocals and post-grad conflation of sexuality and consciousness-raising, but there was always the sense that she was a musician determined to grow and explore. You didn’t have to like it to feel some admiration. But Wednesday night at the Greek Theater was a different matter entirely: for this tour at least, Amos was an oldies act.
“It’s a nostalgia fest,” she cooed early on, and she wasn’t lying. Even though her new album, Unrepentant Geraldines (Mercury Classics), has been well-received, she only performed two songs from it (by way of comparison, that’s one less than the Rolling Stones usually play from whatever new product they’re flogging on tour). The two recent classically influenced albums and her score for the musical The Light Princess, have been consigned to the memory hole; not a note is heard. Instead, she reaches into her catalog, going as far back as “Fire on the Side,” from her 1980’s pre-stardom band, Y Tori Kant Read.
The short-term memory loss extended into the staging as well. It’s the same as it ever was: alone on stage, straddling her piano bench between a concert grand and an electric keyboard. Even after working in the theater, all that’s changed is a new pair of glasses and nine rectangles of white faux-brick siding hanging behind her. They serve no purpose; the only time they’re acknowledged is when “Lizard Lounge” — a too easy bit of wordplay for someone who has made her bones as a lyricist — is projected on one during her mini-set of covers (a lovely take on Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” a mannered version of Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round,” and a grave, gospel-inflected reading of Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight”). Otherwise, it looked like she was performing in the world’s emptiest, worst stocked Home Depot.
It’s all done a trifle less frenetically than in the past; the songs have be slowed down a step or two, and her When Harry Met Sally…. orgasmatic thrashings have been toned down. She looks wonderful, even if she is a little less limber than in the past, occasionally straining to reach the piano pedals. But it’s a set she could just as easily have performed in 1994 as 2014.
Not that the adoring crowd cared. They cheered when she raised her hand, when she crossed her legs, when she leaned vampishly across the grand at the start of “A Sorta Fairytale.” When the applause comes so easily, it must be tough not to yield to the temptation and give the people what they want. After this decade’s musical wanderings, both the album and the show are being hailed as a return to form, but really, it’s a step backwards.
Bouncing Off Clouds
God (with “Tubular Bells” and “Running Up that Hill” teases)
A Sorta Favorite
Fire on the Side (Y Kant Tori Read song)
Hyperballad (Bjork cover, with elements of “Cloud on My Tongue”)
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) (Dead or Alive cover)
Someone Saved My Life Tonight (Elton John cover)
i i e e e
In Your Room (Depeche Mode cover)
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