Sunday 19 February 2017
It starts on a barrel. And seeing her standing up there I recall my first meeting of Amanda Palmer, in her book, retelling time as a human statue, on high, posed. Then she roams the crowd, playing Nirvana. She’s a traveling troubadour. But I know what she’s really up to. She’s meeting her audience. Up close. Face to face. In the eye. Before she surrenders to them, gives them her all, takes the stage.
And now, at the piano, the gig begins. An event she, herself, calls, “the most random gig in the World”, and “ridiculous” for the fact that it’s not just her only NZ date, but it’s in Napier, in a shabby loved club. In front of a tiny, in comparative, albeit sold out audience.
It’s a ‘pinch-yourself’ ‘lucky to be there’ gig. Throughout a shiver as the crowd repeats: “That’s her! That’s really Amanda Palmer. Right there!”
This is what punk looks like, sounds like, feels like when it grows up, gets married, has a baby.
Up on the barrel the punk plays ukulele and sings Making Whoopee wearing long black gloves and a pant suit with voluminous legs and the briefest of tops, her hair in roughed-up vintage waves: Amanda Palmer speaks to right now – so this is a fist-pump to this Art Deco weekend, not a nostalgic salute to its source.
It’s a deeply self-reflective, self-indulgent, self-aware, self-centred gig and so it should be: Amanda Palmer is her art, her life is her practice and with all the self- comes a great deal of humanity and generosity. Not only is that “really Amanda Palmer”, standing right there, it really is Amanda Palmer, not some veneer self that wears the brand but leaves the actual human of that same name safely at home.
Palmer is a contemporary of mine and so many of the references are pitched directly at me and my generation; I get her and most of her in-jokes. I know all the words to the pop anthems she punks up and belts out. I too am “a creep and a weirdo“, but now that I’m this side of 40 I know what the hell I’m doing here and Palmer does too. Self-doubt be damned, she’s on fire and making use of every minute and every ounce of creative energy – before the baby wakes up.
In the current climate, everything is political, and she’s pitch perfect when it comes to weaving the current into some cracking (and crack up) tunes. A couple of them unedited, the lyricism and storytelling meanders but it feels a privilege to see her work in its raw form. And it’s a big middle finger to the standard three-minute pop song.
Her songs nod to proud musical ancestors: I hear Jacques Brel in there, Joni Mitchell, Tom Lehrer, Randy Newman, Arlo Guthrie, heck it’s Art Deco so Uncle Noel is in there too! Palmer is as much theatre as she is music, as much poetry as cabaret.
With a ukulele range of the standard five chords and a tonality that meanders so much she celebrates herself for being ‘on key’ it’s such a rarity, the shining musical moments are her banging warbles and her skilled piano playing. She perches on the stool, one leg propped up. Ten digits aren’t enough to play the way she wants to so her fist and elbow engage too.
At her core Amanda Palmer is a song writer and her wordsmithing is a delight: funny, warm, current, angry, familiar, dark. Her telling of the Dresden Dolls Missed Me is terrifying; A Mother’s Confession honest and relatable; her love song to husband Neil Gaiman hilarious (she loves everything about him except his love for vegemite!). Fans are enamoured (Eli-Up-The-Front knows every word and prompts Palmer when she loses a line). Newbie’s are transfixed. All of us are left saying “That was her, the real Amanda Palmer, right there!”