Amanda Palmer – Ulster Hall, Belfast; October 26th, 2019
Amanda Palmer’s show in Belfast was the one I had been looking most forward to next to Paris. Thus, I am a little sad to report that it didn’t fully grab me. It was a beautiful show to be sure, but there was just so much distraction. It was the first of her concerts where I did not feel connected and mesmerized the entire time. The venue wasn’t sold out and I felt sorry about the many empty seats I saw. Yet Amanda powered through her set and apparently felt everything she needed to feel. So the show was a success after all and that is the main thing. 🙂
After my adventures in Tilburg the previous evening, I’d spent a short night in Rotterdam and found myself on an early morning fast train to Amsterdam airport. Since my experienced with this airport are mostly bad, I was fully expecting that my flight would be delayed. but made it to Belfast even a little before the scheduled time. Passport control, though not automated, was surprisingly quick and I was out of the terminal in good time to catch the 10:45 bus to the city. Unfortunately, I only learned when I stepped on it, that they did not accept credit cards. I was one pound short, but thanks, but a nice woman bailed me out, so I did not have to wait for the next one. She saved my ass, because I had plans at noon and not much time to make it there.
The second surprise of the day was when the bus stopped before getting to the bus center that was supposedly the only stop on the way from the airport. Thus, I was much closer to The Mac where I wanted to attend the recording of Róisín Ingle’s Irish Times Women’s Podcast titled “Abortion and Nothern Ireland, what now?” with Amanda as a special guest. The venue was lovely and the box office kindly stored my suitcase, because I did not have coins for the locker. 🙂 The enue was tiny, but thanks to being so early I got a great seat at the front. This was exciting.
Soon after everyone sat, Róisin came out and briefly explained what was going to happen. She asked us to be quiet, unless we felt something was worth cheering for, then of course we should express that. She joked that we were not trapped and could of course go use the toilet if we needed to. Then she introduced her guests: Performer and activist Kellie Turtle, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, activist Danielle Roberts from Alliance for Choice and of course Amanda Palmer. Everything about their discussion was beautiful, supportive and compassionate. They told stories and shared their feelings, spoke about “good” and “bad” abortions, the shame around the topic and the brave people who broke the taboo of speaking about it, risking being reported and sent to prison for it. It had been only a week ago that abortion had been decriminalized in Northern Ireland so they finally felt free. It was a very emotional experience for the women on the panel and the people in the audience. Like Amanda, both Roisin and Kellie had had abortions and shared openly how they felt about it and how hard it was to keep it all quiet. Danielle talked about her work for the change in legislation and Paula spoke about her side of things. They touched on the topic of feeling more validated after having children and how society makes you feel like a failure if you don’t have children as a woman. A big portion of the talk was also devoted to “where do we go from here?” I hope this becomes widely available. Many peope would benefit from listening to it. In the end, Amanda played ‘Voicemail for Jill’ the song that got her uninvited form the ‘Late late show’ and both Roisin and Kelly cried, holding hands. Because it was “ukulele by request” Roisin requested another song and she played Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Black Boy on Mopeds’ – what a gogeous and sad song to end the podcast with.
Sadly I could not stick around to talk, because i had movie tickets to buy. Tickets for the Nordic Film Days in Lübeck went on sale in the afternoon, which meant 2 pm local time. Therefore I rushed to my Bed & Breakfast to check in and log in. Well, when I arrived there was police swarming all over the house, because of some domestic dispute / disturbance and the B&B owner were noweher to be seen. Strangely, I was able to compartmentalize, got out of the way, retreated to the common room and accessed the internet. Managed to buy all the tickets, before the owner appeared and apologized. I assured her it was not her fault, got checked in and finally had my own room. Considered going to join Shintaido practice and then didn’t feel like rushing there, so I didn’t. There will still be a chance in Limerick tomorrow.
So I did not manage to see anything of Belfast at all, unless you count the buildings I walked past. I will have to come back some day to do the tourist thing. Róisin had mentioned during the podcast that it is probably the friendliest city in the world and after my experience I would agree. On the way to Ulster Hall I had excellent Indian food a a restaurant with friendly staff, chatted with lovely fans at the venue and soon learned that the venue’s staff was wonderful as well. I had a front row seat, but the stage was really high so it would be a weird angle for taking pictures. On the way in I ran into Subul, Amanda’s lighting tech, who recognized me and asked how I was. We chatted about the gorgeous venue – really, there was a huge organ (!) and beautifully painted walls. When I mentioned the high stage and weird angle she offered me to take any free seat upstairs for a better view. Wow, what a great offer. I considered for a moment, if I really wanted to give up my front row seat, but the photographer in me won – you don’t say no to snapping pictures from the balcony if you have your telephoto lens with you. Thus, I asked the venue staff if I could take a look around upstairs and they were really sweet about it. So was the box office when I asked them which seats were available. I finally settled for front row across from the stage, which was a tiny bit too far away, but offered a great view. Later, when there was an unexpected intermission, I switched to the right side.
From my vantage pointI could see many empty seats, upstairs as well as down and people were still arriving until one or two songs into the show. The floor was really loud, i.e. every step anyone took could be heard. So whenever someone got up, I noticed and I started wondering if it is always like that, because it seemed like part of the audience was on the move at all times during the show. Some people even left, but if they didn’t like it or it was just too much emotionally, we will never know.
Amanda started on time, walking through the audience, singing’In my Mind’ and greeting the latecomers. It caused a lot of laughter. Once on stage, she told us that Belfast did not greet her so nicely last time around, because a car ran over her foot and it was broken. The gig she did that night – on drugs – turned out to be good though. Immediately she congratulated Northern Ireland on decriminalizing abortion and spoke about how she happens to be in Ireland or now in Northern Ireland when something historical like that happens. As opposed to Cork and Dublin, Belfast also allowed abortion rights campaigns to set up in the lobby. Because Sinéad O’Connor was also touring, she once again played ‘Black Boys on Mopeds’, on the piano this time. It was even more beautiful than the ukulele version. I had never paid any attention to Sinéad O’Connor, never went beyond ‘Nothing compares 2 u’ which I do not like. Now I believe I have some new music to discover. Thank you, Amanda for bringing her to my attention.
She spoke about her OK taste in music and bad taste in men that both changed around the time she was 14 and discovered the darker stuff, musically that is. It was the start of a story about the man she referred to as her “corruptor”, who once tied her to a table, naked, saying she would be his friend’s birthday present. The story continued throughout the night, ending with said friend coming to her rescue in the end. “This is wrong, I’m going to untie you”. The audience did not know that right away though and the reaction to this part of the show always range from shocked silence to exclamations of “oh my god”, ending in relief when we hear that nothing worse happened in the end. First though, she left that image in our heads and talked about her parents and mistreating her mom’s piano, which lead to a powerful rendition of ‘Runs in the Family’.
The story part before ‘Bigger on the inside’ covered a lot of ground, from meeting her best friend and neighbor Anthony, via important people in her life dying and being unable to deal with it and use it musically to forming a band and building a community. Mostly the audience listened quietly, except for huge cheers when she mentioned that the Dresden Dolls are working on a new album. She spoke about criticism of her and her music and how it changed after she dared to emphasize with the Boston bomber and how even the people she considered on her side were not and told her she screwed up. All that happened around the same time as her Kickstarter for ‘Piano is evil’ and Anthony getting sick with cancer, leading to a writer’s block until she wrote ‘Bigger on the inside’ for a house party in one hour. It must have felt very sad and lonely and all those feelings come through in the song, which she played on the ukulele, sitting on the stage on the side.
She mentioned that some people in the audience might be there without having any idea of what they were in for, because she had not been to Belfast in a long time. She gave us permission to leave or tell her we were to sad and someone used it right away. Therefore, we go the opening chords of ‘Coin-operated Boy’, before we moved on to the topic of abortion. It got such a joyful reaction when she said it, because finally, people in Northern Ireland are allowed to speak about abortion openly. Amanda mentioned that her first abortion, at 17 was rather ordinary, but how she was afraid to tell her mother. We heard then that her then boyfriend was the guy who had untied her from the table. Both, her boyfriend and her mom were supportive and accompanied her to Planned Parenthood for her appointment. She remembered the most painful part of it was walking to the building through protestors screaming at her she was a murderer. Her boyfriend gifted her a Christmas cactus as a get well present. She was going to keep it forever, but it died two months later – so much for being able to take care of a child at 17. ‘Oasis’ was her first try to write about abortion, strangely not loved by everyone. Being a teenager and having to compartmentalize school and just having had an abortion probably felt very much like the song though.
Afterwards Amanda spoke about her two other abortions, one for medical reasons where she felt guilty about not having to make a decision because she did not know if she wanted children. Together with Neil they had never spoken about whether they wanted children or not and when she got pregnant again she was so indecisive that he started referring to it as Schrödinger’s Baby. She ended up deciding that she did not want to have a child at that point and we heard about places to get an abortion and places to get a nice abortion in New York City. In-between she played us ‘Part of your World’ telling us we should imagine three different voices speaking in the song. I’m not going to say which four, because it is so much funnier to hear it during the show. 😀 We all laughed a lot during the song.
Eventually, she felt ready for a baby and when she got pregnant again she was happy about it, the tested positive for a rare genetic disorder. Luckily, after the initial scare, the test turned out to be a false positive and everything was fine. Meanwhile Anthony got sicker and eventually died of leukemia when she was seven months pregnant. After he was gone, she finally managed to write him a song, speaking about their friendship and the paradox he was, promoting radical compassion, while collecting weapons at the same time. Then she played a killer version of ‘Machete’. It made someone too sad so we got a bit of ‘Coin-operated Boy’ again. Not so long after Anthony was gone, Amanda gave birth and she did so in Tennessee among old school midwives, away from hospitals and doctors with watches. In the first four months of Ash’s live she insisted on doing everything alone without any help and wrote a song about that time. With ‘A Mother’s Confession’ the first part of the show ended, because to my surprise she announced an intermission. She also asked for abortion stories and whoever wanted to share hem could go to Jack (the tour journalist) and Gaby (the tour photographer) to do so.
After intermission Amanda talked waves to everyone getting back in and asked if we got drinks in the meantime. Many did, it is that kind of show. ‘Coin-operated Boy’ got us back in the show mood and this time it was the full song too. That one is always fun to watch, not least because of the funny faces Amanda makes while performing it. It lightened the mood and we got a good laugh afterwards too when she told us that the first movie Ash insisted on seeing and loved was ‘Frozen’, considering that she had earlier talked about how she could not related to all the parents with children in Frozen merch. Things got more serious again when she spoke about being invited to the restorative justice retreat and everything that happened there. The story was not without light though and we all got a laugh when she described accidentally running over a squirrel and the murderers from the retreat dubbing her “Amanda, the squirrel killer”. From there we got to Patreon and using the patrons to write songs, which brought us the always great ‘Drowning in the sound’. The song is powerful as it is, but the lights she uses then makes it even better. What a great atmosphere they create. The best part, is the lights going out on the last line of “You worship the sun, but you keep feeding the dark”. Perfection!
Having joined Patreon, she never wanted to make a record again, just songs and then felt that she actually had songs that came together that way and that she might as well put it out as one. There was only one song missing, which happened after she played in Dublin last year and got there on the day of the abortion referendum and after everything she learned there. It was also a stark contrast to abortion being slowly made illegal in the US, by just restricting access to it so much that poor people cannot afford to get one. Finally she found her voice to write a song about abortion. For the second time that day, ‘Voicemail for Jill’ brought tears to my eyes and I am sure I was not the only one in the room who was crying. She ended it with “congratulations, you are free” and could barely speak at first when she told us about the podcast she had done earlier that day.
She told us about her miscarriage after and how terrible Christmas was that year. The story is so sad and yet there is so much strength in there and such a positive message of sisterhood and trusting your feelings and sharing what you go through that in the end it feels like a light on the horizon. She ended with “you come equipped to deal with everything and I have a song about it” launching into ‘Let it go’. Before I saw the first show on this tour I would have never thought the title song from ‘frozen’ could be so fitting. 🙂 It was beautiful and ended in standing ovations and people throwing flowers. <3
The show was supposed to be over at this point, since we had already gone past curfew and when Amanda came back she let us know that she has to pay 350 £ for every 15 minutes she goes past it. That night though, she did not care, because this was one of the shows she’d been looking forward to most. “Just buy a lot of merchandise” she said. It was time for one last story and we learned that she got an email from “the corruptor” apologizing for hurting her and she forgave him. We also heard more about the prison retreat and finally ‘The Ride’ which was the perfect ending to the show.
After the gig, the staff was just as friendly as before, waiting for everyone to get done and not kicking us out! Here’s a shout out to the lovely of Ulster Hall staff for allowing me to sit in different seats and generally being super kind. <3 A few people stuck around and I got a nice warm hug from Amanda before I left. Belfast was considerably colder than the Netherlands so I didn’t really feel like going out and braving that cold, but eventually I had to go. On the way in I had bought a Belfast tour poster which I now happily carried back to my B&B. One more show to go before leaving Ireland….
In my Mind
Black Boys on Mopeds (Sinéad O’Connor cover)
Runs in the Family
Bigger on the inside
Part of your World (Jodi Benson cover)
A Mother’s Confession
Drowning in the Sound
Voicemail for Jill
Let it go (Idina Menzel cover)