Tori Amos (4 Nov 2011, Manchester Apollo)

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Touring to promote Night of Hunters, Tori Amos finally played somewhere and somewhen I could make, though I haven’t been too impressed with the last few albums so I might have timed this better. The last album was better but hadn’t grown on me as Boys for Pele or Under the Pink. My neighbour at this (seated) concert assured me the album’s a grower and after this superb concert, I’m going to revisit it.

The gig kicked off with the support act, Mark Hole. His was an interesting act, very much in the Tori mould, gender notwithstanding, and it was obvious why he’d appeal to her as support. Of his five songs, two were excellent, two pretty good and one, called ‘Tori Tour’ and written to commemorate the bittersweet moment when he was unable to share his news of being offered this tour because he’d broken up with his partner, was apposite but schmaltzy.

Tori herself kicked off with Shattering Sea, one of the new songs, and it quickly became apparent that these new songs stood up very well on this live environment. Indeed, Star Whisperer , though it comes in at just under ten minutes long, was riveting and will surely become a fan favourite.

There was also a good smattering of older songs, with Bliss and Hey Jupiter among the highlights, though probably the strongest of these was a fairly radical reworking of Precious Things, employing two of the supporting string quartet as percussionists, on second violin and cello to great effect. Only Winter (All the White Horses), of the old songs, was a disappointment, being a little overwrought; this has to be put in perspective – it was excellent but not up to the flawless standard set elsewhere.

The string section, Apollon Musagete, were interesting themselves, inventive, unorthodox and animated. Before Tori’s first encore, rather than the usual impatient wait, Apollon Musagete had the stage to themselves and got a huge cheer, fully deserved, for their efforts.

Very often at gigs, we accept a lower standard of finished sound as the price for stagecraft, a sense of occasion and a certain ‘edge’ to the live performance. Here, for the most part, the songs were better than their album versions, with the rich and deep sound quality really making a difference to the overall song. Tori was no slouch on stagecraft either. Sitting between grand piano and electronic keyboard, frequently playing one hand on each and with long hair and flowing green robes, she could have been a (much prettier!) Rick Wakeman figure, but with better music. She also, especially on the new songs, threw in a few expressionist dance poses, this now reminiscent of Kate Bush. There was more traditional playing to the audience which helped leven the occasion, since many of the songs are pretty intense, and one improv. song, I Fucked Up, when a mic-headphone cable became detached.

A rollicking, foot-stomping Big Wheel closed and then this was done.

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