Performer spotlight: Amanda F. Palmer

So: I find myself once again without any concerts to review for a couple of weeks, and therefore I’m writing about someone I’m hoping to see next week instead of a band I’ve already seen. Amanda Palmer! She is playing a tiny show right in my neighborhood and I’m hoping to win tickets (wish me luck!). It’s such a small venue that they are not selling tickets, but giving them away to a few lucky people.

The cool part, and the reason I’m writing about it in advance, is that it’s going to be streamed live on the internet, and we can all see the show whether or not we get tickets. Save the date: June 4, 7PM EST, at Red Star Union. There will also be a number of guest artists doing music and readings, including her husband Neil Gaiman, who happens to be one of my favorite authors ever since I stumbled across a copy of Good Omens back in the 90s. I think it’s going to be a really fun night.


If you’re a fan of AFP, you’re already writing this on your calendar. If you aren’t familiar with her music, read on! (I realize there’s a third option, but I guess they’ve already stopped reading.)

The first time I saw AFP was about three years ago, after a friend of mine (hi Lisa!) told me I should check out the Evelyn Evelyn concert at a local venue I really like. It wasn’t expensive, so I figured I would give it a shot in spite of knowing nothing about it aside from reading a brief blurb on the website (which didn’t give anything away). I may be the only person in the entire world that attended an Evelyn Evelyn show without knowing beforehand what the deal was, and I feel so lucky that it happened that way – I just about died laughing when they came on stage, and the whole night was so much fun and full of surprise. Music, drama, comedy, theater, puppetry – I had no idea what would happen next. This was one of the songs they did that night; I really love the level of humor/silliness they managed to hit for the video:

Who doesn’t love puppets, right? And elephants! Many of the songs from that project are serious and/or sad, but this one is a pure novelty song. Never fails to make me laugh.

After that show, I was hooked, and I’ve seen her a number of times since – and every time there are new surprises, and every time it’s a lot of fun. I’ve always gotten the sense that everyone on stage is having a blast, and the audiences at her shows are some of my favorites – they tend to be really nice and welcoming to strangers who are attending the show alone. (I go to a lot of shows – often by myself – and could probably write a PhD thesis on the differences between various bands’ fans. There are bands I would never go see again solely because their fans are such terrifying douchebags, and there are bands where I look forward to making new friends every time I see them.)

Her music is kind of hard to categorize – there’s rock, pop, punk, and just plain strange, and she’s often considered part of Boston’s thriving dark cabaret scene. Her most recent album (Theatre Is Evil) has a lot of pop influence, but at the same time she is completely subverting everything that we consider a staple of modern pop. There are no perfect auto-tuned vocals, no trite lyrics, no one looks like a model, no one acts like a stereotype, and nothing about it seems like it’s been calculated to target some kind of economic demographic. In short, it’s pop that someone like me can enjoy without feeling dirty afterwards.

AFP is definitely a performer that knows how to work an audience – I think her music really comes to life in a live setting in a way that it doesn’t in the studio. A lot of my favorite musicians are like that (which I guess is why I have a concert review blog and not an album review blog). I rarely listen to her studio albums (I tend to listen to more instrumental jazz and classical music at home) but I will go to as many of her shows as I can possibly attend, because they’re always great.

I’ll give you an example of her studio work versus live performance… here’s my favorite video from her last album, “Want It Back.” (Warning: NSFW! Contains calligraphy! Someone ruins a book! A word is spelled wrong! And also there is nudity.)

I think it’s a beautiful and artistic video, and the production of this studio version of the song is quite polished and “pop” feeling to me. But you can’t really say it’s meant to be mainstream – this was actually deleted from Youtube for censorship reasons.

Now look at what she did with the very same song on tour last year:

A bullhorn and a banjo. Down in the crowd getting up close and personal with the fans. Sweating and jumping around while wearing face paint. Completely different than the studio version – arguably no longer a pop song – but (and I can testify to this, having seen it in person) it got the audience completely fired up and having fun, singing and clapping and stomping along, loving every minute and excited to be a part of it. When I saw them at the Paradise in November, the performed it hanging over the side of the balcony. Just excellent performance art all around. That is what she does at live shows – pulls out a surprise that no one is expecting. I might well see eighty or ninety concerts this year, so a performer that I can count on for something unusual is always going to get extra points from me.

Amanda Palmer is doing a ton of concerts this year, so if you’re interested in seeing her, check out her tour listings here: She’s doing some U.S. shows (mostly festivals and one-offs), plus a lot of shows in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and a bunch of dates around Europe.

One of the fun things about AFP is that she is totally open to audio and video recording/sharing, so I am able to openly tape at her concerts. I’ve got a recording of the last time I saw her, in November, uploaded to Google docs for your listening pleasure: Share and enjoy! 😉 You can also listen to lots of her studio recordings on her Bandcamp page, here:

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9 Responses to Performer spotlight: Amanda F. Palmer

  1. Love your reviews – please keep them coming!

  2. I also love your reviews, and you are so spot on with Amanda. She is absolutely amazing.

  3. Shamana says:

    I agree your reviews are great! I get exactly what you’re saying about Amanda; I never really liked the studio versions of her songs so I nver got into her music that much but when I came across live videos on youtube I was like…yeah this chick is cool! :) And, ‘Elephant Elepahnt,’ is awesome, I mean who doesn’t like puppets right? 😛

  4. Hat. says:

    And lady gaga believes she is avant-garde..
    I’ll have to keep a closer eye on your blogs.
    To live vicariously in the hip village.

  5. Cathie Herbert says:

    Another great review. Thanks for the info/links.

  6. BT says:

    Great point, studio versus live!

  7. ina says:

    Thank you for another great review, fearless concert manic! You are truly on a quest to show people great and unique music. I hope our roads meet again soon!

  8. Marco Van Bergen says:

    Great review again Sarah! Loved her performance in which she talks about giving and sharing as an artist … and the streaming of her and Gaiman last week.

  9. vegwell says:

    Your insight is always fresh, You articulate so perfectly why concert manic is the ideal state. The upcoming show will be a righteous celebration of your birthday. Hope you get to go.

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