Amanda Palmer – Admiralspalast, Berlin; September 6th, 2019
It is half past 11 at night and everyone at my hostel dorm is fast asleep – everyone but me that is. I’ve just returned from the church of Amanda Fucking Palmer and I cannot possibly go to sleep yet. In fact if it had not been for the impossibly strict curfew we might still be listening to her right now. She is not only an incredible songwriter and performer, but also a brilliant storyteller. In her three hour show she didn’t even play that many songs, but it was all tied together by the story she told and there was not a moment of boredom all evening. If she was aiming for “Amanda on Broadway” she nailed it! And if she wasn’t, she nailed it anyway – it was the perfect combination of storytelling, music, honesty, compassion, sharing that I could have imagined.
I went to Berlin straight from work and had just checked in to my hostel when the email came through that there was a meeting with Amanda for all the Patrons before the show. We were supposed to meet her at 5:20 so I checked my watch and realized I’d have to leave right away if I was going to make it there on time. Upon arrival I looked around and thought the most colorful, i.e. diverse group of people must be it. Most of us were wearing black and yet it didn’t feel like a uniform. Everyone had their own style. We chatted and waited, someone brought tiny playing cards we could use to recognize each other by. Eventually someone said we should all sit down on the stairs and that’s where we were when Amanda showed up. She asked someone to take a pictures, sat among us, made a few quick announcements regarding the show and the curfew (10 o’clock, punishable) and was gone again.
Over at the Admiralspalast the doors were supposed to open at 5:45, but did not. They finally did let us in around 6 and many of us hit the merch table first.There were hankies to get and I’d wanted to buy a copy of ‘You’ve got me singing’, but they didn’t have those. The posters were gorgeous too – no more space on my walls though. There was sill enough time to get a drink and go to the toilet before I setteled into my front row seat. There were signs everywhere about photography not being allowed so I decided not to risk it. Could be nice to enjoy a show without a camera. I was next to the stairs that lead up to the stage and thus at a weird angle to the grand piano, but it was all good, being this close was really nice.
As promised, Amanda was on stage at 6:45, greeting us and starting with “I wanna tell you a story”. And stories she told. For the next two hours she talked one hell of a lot, covering all the important topics, going from here to there, around a corner, forward, backward and returning to the start again. “Do you remember the table?” became a key phrase that night. Hell yes I did and dispite all the side stories, she never lost track of the main one. It was beautiful. Being a big fan of storytellers, it could not have been any better. In the first part of the show she played six songs in total. Then she announced an intermission and when some of us protested reduced it to “10ish minutes”. We had another hour to go after that, heard four more songs and so many more stories. <3 The only criticism I have was the bloody curfew forcing Amanda to stop before it was really over, but that did not take away any of the brilliance of the concert or its power. :’)
Much of what we heard about Amanda’s life that night was heartbreaking and more than once I felt my gut cringe thinking “this is horrible!” Yet there were always rays of light too and she told us how she used songwriting and music to get a hold of all the pain she felt inside. When she was a teenager she destroyed many piano strings in the process and was grateful that her mom just quietly paid for their replacement. We learned a few things about her family and the important people in her life. She laid it all out there for us to see – openly and without shame, no matter what she talked about. Mind you, there was nothing to be ashamed of, but especially women are so often taught to feel ashamed that it feels surprising and intensely liberating when one of us is not.
I’m not going to spill all the details here because you need to hear those stories yourself, as told by Amanda, to get the full impact. So if you enjoy good story ellers and want to see a woman who is just as unapologetic as she is empathetic, telling you about her life in a relatable way, I urge you to go and see the show – I am confident you won’t regret it. Despite having completely different life experiences and walking down a completely different path I could relate to many of the feeling she spoke about that night and it felt cathartic, leaving me emotionally drained and happy at the same time.
The first song we heard was ‘The Killing type’ it perfectly underlined everything she had just spoken about. This turned out to be the theme of the night: Sharing her life’s story and playing songs that complimented those stories. It was the perfect concept for me, she had me from the first words. She talked about meeting Anthony, her next door neighbor and best friend, spoke about all the things he taught her and all the times she turned to him in need of advice. While explaining the concept of “radical compassion”, she mentioned how she had written a poem full of empathy for the Boston bomber and all the heat she got for it. All that lead to ‘Bigger on the inside’ and meanwhile she had walked from the piano over to the edge of the stage and sat down right in front if me. I was staring at her in awe, I could not help it and as I watched tears streaming down her face, her mascara slowly running down, I felt s many things at once it is hard to unpack. Amanda was baring her soul for all of us to see and it felt as intimate as if it were just the two of is in the room. I wanted to stand up and hug her and tell her “It’s going to be OK, you are loved” and yet I sat there, staring and crying quietly, feeling very vulnerable and very safe at the same time. Vulnerable, because then and there I remembered the moments in my life I’d felt hurt and scared and alone and wanted nothing more than someone telling me it was going to be OK. Safe, because I felt I was among “my people”, those who would understand and accept everything. <3
Everything about this concert was raw and it was real. There was no faking anything, just a heartfelt, honest, authentic performance of stories and songs. It was sad, it was tough and it made me cry a lot. Yet at the same time it was beautiful and brilliant and very funny too. Even now thinking back, I am crying and chuckling while I’m writing this post. It has been a while since anyone or anything has moved me this much. 🙂
Of course Amanda spoke about abortion. Not only because it is part of her life story, but also because it is an important topic to talk about in the light of abortion still being illegal in so many countries (Germany included) and currently being made practically illegal all over the US. Before playing ‘Oasis’ she told us how she had struggled to write an abortion song and this was her first attempt. It actually sounds pretty happy and with heavy Beatles influence where we all sang along. She described how this fits with being a teenager, having to compartmentalize the reality of having had an abortion and pretending that everything is normal and nothing has happened. I would think it fits at a later age as well. Some critics said the song “made light” of date rape and abortion. Now, the best comeback to this is that “going as deep into the dark as possible and fucking make light” is her job as an artist. Like many times that night, I nodded in agreement.
We learned that for her 35 was the magical age at which she thought she’d know if she wanted to have children or not and then it wasn’t. I could related to this too, because while I pretty much always knew I did not want children, there wer many other things I thought I’d have figured out by age 35 and then realized I hadn’t. It took me a few more years to find out that it’s the same for pretty much everyone and all the “adulting” we do is just pretending the best we can. 😉
Disney’s ‘Frozen’ was another recurring theme that night, but the first Disney movie song we heard was ‘Part of your World’ from ‘Arielle’. It was announced as the perfect song written for the occasion of being torn between wanting a baby and not being ready. Amanda asked us to imagine it being sung by several narrators at once. It was an exercise that made the song rather funny. It got even better when she added a forth narrator halfway through. I was already laughing and it only got better when the lights went down and a disco ball started rotating above our heads. who said you can’t have fun with serious topics? 😛
The story wound back to Anthony, her best friend, who died when she was 7 month pregnant. She talked about being with him when he died and how it felt like an honor to be able to say goodbye. I knew what that felt like, because I was lucky enough to say goodbye to my dad before he died last year. All the way through ‘Machete’ I cried. It felt cleansing and was exactly what I needed. Afterwards someone used the wildcard, calling “Amanda, I’m too sad” and she played us the intro to ‘Coin-operated Boy’. She told us there’d be an intermission soon and despite a few of us not wanting one, she insisted, reasoning we might need to get some alcohol. There was a brief and funny discussion about the hankies for sale at the merch, because someone asked if they were “reusable” and she understood “reasonable”. 🙂 Last song before the intermission was ‘A Mother’s Confession’, so I didn’t go into the break completely depressed. Of course there was a sing-along of “At least the Baby didn’t die” in the end. 😀
I managed to go pee, get a Patreon pin and be back in my seat in ten minutes. Amanda was back at the piano very soon after, told us she had a special treat for those who made it back and then played a little melody making up lyrics to call us back inside. 🙂 The treat, however was a fucking beautiful intro that lead to ‘Coin-operated Boy’. After she played the first chords she paused and lots of people just started singing. It was brilliant and lead into an amazing version of the song. The big news at the end of the song was that The Dresden Dolls might make a new album. Yay!
The longest story during the second half was about being part of a project at a prison where prisoners meet people who have suffered from the sort of crimes they have committed and talk about it and apologized. It was a moving as well as funny story that would lose a lot of its power if I retold it here. She also spoke about Patreon too, how it changed her songwriting and the first song where she asked for input which was ‘Drowning in the Sound’, mentioning some of the topics that were on people’s minds that day. The song was so powerful it might have been the best version of it I’ve heard so far. It conjured up loads of images from the video recently released for it. I might have held my breath and again I was in tears.
For those who didn’t know yet, Amanda told us more about crowdfunding and how Patreon works. She suspected that this stuff is so difficult for Germans, because “there are no rules”. It made me laugh the way you do when you know something is probably right. I’ve been into this whole crowdfunding thing for a while and to me it all feels right and good and the perfect way to support the artists I love, but I often find myself explaining this to people, especially those who have never been fans of smaller bands. I will always gladly do so, because I am convinced it will help in the long run. Amanda also spoke about how her show came together and what has influenced her. A key point was one of her yoga teachers telling her “if you can, you must!” and one of the shows she mentioned as an influence was “Springsteen on Broadway”. She talked about all the things Bruce did and didn’t speak about and how she recognized that the things he didn’t speak about were the ones she could talk about and therefore she must. As I have mentioned earlier, I see the influence and I think this is the best show she could have possibly made out of all this!
More tears came when she told us about being in Dublin during the abortion referendum there. I remember that show and the song that came out of it, ‘Voicemail for Jill’ is one of my favorite ones. To me it is the perfect song about the topic and not so long ago it has helped me through a rough patch in my life. Also, it has one of the most relatable lines in any song ever: “Isn’t it amazing how we can never tell who is in an identical hell?”. :’) It fits well with the theme of the night about how important compassion is and also how often we get surprising results when we talk about the terrible events in our lives only to realize that we are not burdening others but they might be relieved because they have similars events in their lives and talking about it makes us all feel less alone. The final story we heard tied right in with this. It was followed by ‘Let it go’ from ‘Frozen’ – sung in German! Amanda fucked up a few times and the disco ball came in early, but it was fucking great anyway! 😀
After that she asked if we had time for a short one or a long one before she had to stop only to learn that we were at curfew and she was not allowed to play any more, no matter how much we protested. 🙁 She apologized, she thanked us, thanked her crew and told us to take care of each other. It was a bit of an abrupt ending, but sometimes shit happens and I believe we all understood. We cheered wildly, stood up and did not stop clapping. I looked around and nobody was leaving. It went on for ten minutes and Amanda came back out twice to thank us, saying that never in her career she had seen anything like this. It was well deserved too.
When I finally walked back to my hostel I felt a little wobbly in the knees and in desperate need of a drink. Unfortunately I did not spot any of the other Patrons on the way out, but I did find a kiosk that sold my favorite cider. 🙂 So I sat there, quietly, sipping my drink and reminiscing about the past three hours. It was incredibly touching and all sorts of wonderful. Thank you Amanda, I have no idea how you do this night after night, but I am deeply grateful for your presence in my life. I love you!
The Killing Type
Bigger on the inside
Part of your World (Jodi Benson cover)
A Mother’s Confession
Drowning in the Sound
Voicemail for Jill
Lass jetzt los (Let it go in German) (Idina Menzel cover)