Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013

Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013Amanda Palmer @ The Institute, Birmingham – Sunday 16th June 2013

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It’s nice to find that using Facebook can occasionally leave you feeling a bit smarter, rather than the endless wedding pictures/ Candy Crush invites causing you to feel like your brain is rotting into a mound of pig-slop. Amanda Palmer (or Amanda F***ing Palmer as she is sometimes known) has been a name on the lips of some of the brightest people I know for the past four months. FACT. I confess I had never heard of her, until one of these absurdly bright people I just mentioned – who has adored her since puberty – posted her TED talk on Facebook.

Being what many consider to be a raging liberal in the sociological department, I’m always interested when an informative, but tidy establishment like TED invites a woman wearing eyeliner eyebrows and docs to speak in a professional capacity. So I watched… and I was so amazed by what I heard and saw that I decided that when this chick rolled into town I would review the ASS off that gig, no matter what the music sounded like.

And so, I did just that.

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Fresh from her Glastonbury antics and Daily Mail discombobulating (you should YouTube the Dear Daily Mail song, FYI, it’s a smasher), Amander Palmer headlined Birmingham’s HMV Institute, and – from a live performance perspective – broke all the rules. More accurately, she seemed to look at the rules; laugh at the rules; flip the bird at the rules and then ignore them, which was entirely to her credit in the context of her performance. She was the first on stage as the gig kicked off at 7.45pm and the last to leave the stage when we moshed over the curfew line at 11pm: something I have never seen an artist do before. Likewise this was the first show where I ever saw people politely queuing for the bar, and the first show where someone kindly asked if I would like to step in front of them to get a better view. I was quietly astonished. This was a whole new ball game.

Delightfully, Palmer compèred the whole evening. It was clear from the outset, as she produced 2 apples from her bra (and – yes – a banana from her knickers) and lobbed them into the outstretched hands of fans to be enjoyed, that she was there to see everybody just as much as they were there to see her. She cracked jokes, laughed, pulled faces, threw flowers, contorted in and out of costumes and held philosophical discussions with the crowd: some of which may or may not have involved Bon Jovi. In line with the cabaret feel of the night, there was no production-line of supporting bands but a rotation of artists – almost all of whom joined or were an established part of the Grand Theft Orchestra at some point during the evening’s set.

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Proceedings began with GTO’s bassist Jherek Bischoff, who created a stomping masterpiece using just bass and a loop pedal, then followed by two delicate, enchanting tenor ukulele pieces. Lastly, a strong tango with other GTO members and endearing if slightly higgledy-piggledy audience participation. Next the sequinned GTO guitarist and a flapper multi-instrumentalist appeared as Simple Pleasures to kick out some excellent 80’s inspired electro-synth pop. During the fabulously punchy ‘Young Professionals’, GTO drummer and bassist reappeared, and obligingly did some running-man in a suit and hot-pants respectively.

The third support act were British duo The Bitter Ruin who Palmer had picked up on a previous tour. While both were obviously vocally and instrumentally talented, their offer of one song ‘Trust’ was so full on in it’s arguing style that during verse two I totally lost track of what either party were singing (over one another) at all. This is fine when listening to a recorded song, as you can just skip back and listen again as many times as you like, but sung live it felt like a short, sharp blast of confusion.

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The GTO took back the stage and with much fanfare a corseted Palmer flourished her way onto the stage and launched into a raw instrumental introduction. Suddenly the edgy cabaret gave way to full on punk as the GTO blasted their way into ‘Do It With A Rock Star’, and Palmer did nothing less than rock the mic for all it was worth. The crowd were immediately engaged: dancing, screaming along to lyrics – responding to Palmer’s intense physical energy by releasing their own. As the band reeled into an absolutely blinding cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, (which is something I’ve seen many bands attempt, but not necessarily achieve) a full mosh pit was formed and Palmer launched herself into the adoring crowd.

By the end of the night I was to have lost count how many times she did this, while the venue security guards looked on helplessly, but there was nothing obnoxious in the act of doing so. The fans expected this and they were absolutely dying to catch her. Consequently she ‘rolled’ her way across outstretched hands through a number of songs on the somewhat flexible set list. For ‘Bottom Feeder’ she did this dressed in a custom jacket with a sheer, billowing train that floated like a magic parachute behind her as she surfed and rolled. At another point she stood up-right supported by the crowd, as though on stilts made of people, to drop on us a steady yet grungy cover of The Smiths ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’.

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A Queen of Cathartic Writing, Palmer stands apart among her contemporaries – not that she has many who could call themselves such, in my opinion – via the sheer velocity of her live performances and the painful honesty of her lyrics. She sharply articulates explorations of danger and desire to be found within love, sex, death, society and a myriad of other sub-topics. She also plays with the boundaries of music genres: wandering passive-aggressively through a darkly theatrical, almost feline performance of ‘Missed Me’, to the wildly juggernauting energy of tracks like ‘Astronaut’, to the deep vulnerability of her latest offering ‘Bigger On The Inside’, played solely on the ukulele. Her power is in her ability to generate empathy with her listeners whilst all the while offering them the highest quality performance possible, and she IS a consummate performer. All eyes were on her and not one beat was missed – the audience followed every turn, belt, scream, coy glance, grind of the teeth. She was, undeniably, completely fascinating to watch and – bonus! – to listen to.

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In recent months, Palmer has been hailed as a feminist icon, a cult figure and possibly a health and safety menace. But (although I don’t deny she might be all these things) more than that, Amanda Palmer, I am so happy to say, is nothing less than a good old fashioned Rock Star: outrageous, intelligent, instinctive and gifted – always provocative but just a little too smart to incite absolute anarchy. Singing live, Palmer is Bowie without the whimsy, Madonna without the arrogance, Lady Gaga without the meat dress. For me, Palmer’s show was the perfect balance for a rock gig – unpredictable, uncomfortable, enlightening and FUN. And, of course, to end the night covered in someone else’s beer and not regret it one bit speaks for itself really. Would I go see her again? Absolutely. Amanda F***ing Palmer gets five f***ing stars.

Review by Jenny Bulcraig

Photographs by Andrew Watson

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