I’m not gonna live my life on one side of an ampersand

Amanda Palmer – National Concert Hall, Dublin; May 28th, 2018

It’s been roughly two days since I saw Amanda Palmer perform in Dublin and I still have not quite wrapped my head around it. In my first tweet, soon after it was over, I referred to it as “un-fucking believable” and I still cannot find any better description to sum up the night. I heard a lot of emotional, even sad songs and yet I could not get the smile off of my face. I discovered new meaning in songs I could not previously relate to and was brought close to tears. I listened to stories that made me laugh and those that made me swallow hard. For three and a half hours I was enthralled, I was entertained and I was happy to be there and there is nothing more any concert could have given me. It was the perfect ending to a long weekend full of highlights.

The day before I arrived in Dublin, on May 25th 2018, Ireland voted on the 8th amendment to their constitution that effectively made abortion illegal in the country. On the 26th we all learned that over 66% of the people had voted to repeal said amendment. It was a historical victory for women’s rights and cause for much celebration. Signs of campaigns for both sides were still visible everywhere as were signs of happiness and pride on the faces of the people who had campaigned to repeal. I saw many of them wearing shirts reading “repeal” or buttons saying “Tá”/ “Yes” walking around smiling and smiled with them. Life was good!

I spent three fun days in the city and was all hyped up for the concert on Monday. Arrived early, watched people, saw Amanda signing all sorts of merch, but chose not to bother her, talked to a few other concert goers and admired the National concert hall, because everything about it was impressive. Once inside the actual hall I was amazed at how good my seat was – six rows back, dead center. Also the venue was just gorgeous and I loved the grand piano at the center of the stage. The venue filled slowly and it surprised me how many seats near the front stayed empty. I settled down and waited for the show to start.

The last time I had seen Amanda live I’d been exhausted after a two week tour and was running on about two hours of sleep. This time around I was well rested and wondered how that would change the experience. During the course of the evening I learned that it didn’t. At least judging by the two concerts I have attended it seems to be impossible for me not to get emotional and not to be sucked in to it all. At least I cannot imagine being cold and distanced in the face of so many raw emotions. From the moment Amanda walked on stage with her ukulele in hand to the last time she waved goodbye I was in complete awe of her performance and could not think of much else. It was a long show and eventually I felt that I needed to use the bathroom, but I did not want to miss a second of the show and soon forgot all about it.

First though, it was time for comedian and singer Andrew O’Neill who was the night’s support act. I’d already caught a glimpse of him at a webcast of the London Patreon only show about a week earlier, but didn’t really know what to expect. He was hilarious. I enjoyed his rather dark sense of humor, especially in his story about his wife’s abortion. It was a recurring topic that night and it felt right that it was talked about without shame. He talked about other things too of course, made me laugh a lot. He started out singing “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” which turned gradually darker and ended in something along the lines of “if you’re depressed and think nobody loves you clap your hands”. I can’t quite remember everything other than a joke attempt at playing Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’, and his explanation on how the line “but don’t go in” is the best part of ‘Goldfinger’ and works practically everywhere. It was all very entertaining. After about 25 minutes he ended his skit and called Amanda on stage, who hugged him as she walked in. She was greeted with huge cheers and I almost expected people to jump up.

She walked up to the microphone, raised the ukulele and played ‘In My Mind’ – I actually recognized this one, because I’d just heard her play it two days before. After the song she told us how during the tour she had been working on the setlist and that it would be perfect this night. She expressed how happy she was with the vote to repeal the 8th and what a great time it was to be part of all this before launching ‘Into Map of Tasmania’. Most people in the room knew that the answer to her shouting “Oh my God” was “Fuck it” and we yelled it loudly. One verse in she stopped and explained how “Map of Tasmania” a euphemism for a womans pubic hair because Tasmania is shaped like a triangle. It got a lot of laughs when she suggested that the men yelling “Show me your map of Tasmania” would go “ewww” if one really did. 😀

Ukulele put aside, Amanda sat down at the grand piano and gave us a beautiful version of ‘Astronaut’. She told us about her arrival in Dublin a few days ago and how she’d started crying at the airport when she saw people with “Repeal” shirts finding each other and helping each other getting rides into town and what a great time it was to be here and to play to a venue full of happy women for a change, especially after touring the US, where the mood is currently a lot more glum. ‘Ampersand’ was amazing. I loved seeing her alternating between softly striking the keys and then pounding the piano. What a great song! For me everything is still very new, I don’t know what the songs are called, am just slowly getting to know them, but is there any better way to do so than hearing them live? So much of this night was about celebrating women, about making our own decisions, about speaking our minds, about the power we have when we get together and fight for what we believe in. It was glorious! <3

As mentioned before abortion was a recurring topic of the night, from sharing stories to singing songs about it. That included a cover of Ben Folds Five’s ‘Brick’ which was a hit for the band in the 90ies, probably because people did not realize what it was about. Amanda intruduced ‘Mandy goes to Med School’ with the story of her teenage abortion and explained how her black humored way of dealing with it was imagining herself and her band mate as backstreet abortionist. She also told us how someone had asked het how she would explain that “monstrous act” to her son and she replied that she’d tell him that some people thought abortion was monstrous, but she did not think so and if ever he found himself in a situation where it was an issue she would be there to talk to. Yes! At one point she also asked for a show of hands who had an abortion (“if you feel like it”) and gave a woman at the front who raised her hand a copy of ”’e Art of Asking’. 🙂

I loved everything about the concert, the songs as much as the stories in-between, the black humor and the sadness and all the laughs too. It felt very much like a living room show. So intimate as if it was just Amanda a few of her friends. She was emotional throughout and did not hide any of it which made it even better. While I sat there I realized that is just the type of performer she is, raw and honest and beautiful. I found myself with my mouth hanging open with awe, a happy smile on my face and often on the verge of tears too. It was an emotional rollercoaster of the best kind. 🙂

‘A Mother’s Confession’ was funny and even though I am not a mother and most likely never will be, I imagine it must be such a relief to know that  the perfect mother does not exist and everyone makes mistakes. Amanda said it brought on many “when we fucked up” stories – that is a good thing in my opinion. We even made a good choir singing “at least the baby didn’t die” in the end. ‘Drownin in the Sound’ resonated with me a lot for reasons I can’t explain, so l just went with the flow and felt it.

For ‘The Vegemite’ Andrew was back on stage and we heard the story of how Amanda bought him the dress he was wearing for the song at a train station in Bath. It is her love song to Neil and Andrew’s performance was hilarious. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like Neil, who was sitting a few rows in front of me, sank a little deeper into his seat. 😀 Later during the show, when Neil was called to the stage to read his feminist poem ‘The Mushroom Hunters’ he commented on how it is actually Marmite, not Vegemite, but the syllables don’t fit and how the song needed more research on the ingredients. He also told us about the creepy double bass cases standing backstage in the hallway and would surely open at midnight to let out what lives inside. 😉 The poem of course is amazing. He read it just as wonderfully as Amanda does. 🙂

When Amanda told us the story about the people who left a show early, because “it was too sad” I got it, yet I would not have wanted to leave for the world, sad or not. Of course this concert was an unusually happy one compared to some of the live streams I have seen. It doesn’t bother me though, it’s all part of it for me, like the tears in my eyes during ‘The Bed Song’. She even played a brand new song for us that was recorded a little while ago, but not yet released. It was amazing! <3

The main set ended with a brilliant cover of The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ turning into ‘Half Jack’ and ‘The Ride’. The latter is not a song I related to much before this concert, but somehow, then and there, it suddenly made sense to me. It might have been something about the way it was introduced. We learned about the process of writing it based on comments on Patreon as an answer to a question about what scares us. Someone talked about a father she or he was estranged from, someone talked about having list a parent. All the topics hit home and the message that life is “just a ride” like comedian Bill Hicks would say and one of the Patrons reminded her.

At that point we were into the third hour of the show. Originally there had been a curfew, but Amanda didn’t feel like like having to stop and paid the fee to play longer. Just like that! <3 We clapped and cheered wildly to get her back on stage and she happily came back, grabbing her ukulele for one last song. With ‘The Ukulele Anthem’ she send us on our way, but not before collectively inviting us to the after party, instructing us to ask around and promising to bring her ukulele.

I was tempted, but decided against it. The night had been great already, it could not have gone any better so I decided to leave on this high note, remembering my early morning flight. Would have lived to thank Amanda personally and give her a big hug, but a virtual one will have to do. See you in Edinburgh! 🙂

pictures of this concert

Setlist

In My Mind
Map of Tasmania
Astronaut
Ampersand
Missed Me (The Dresden Dolls song)
The Killing Type (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover)
A Mother’s Confession
Mandy Goes to Med School (The Dresden Dolls song)
Drowning in the Sound
The Vegimite (with Andrew O’Neill)
Coin-Operated Boy (The Dresden Dolls song)
Oasis
The Bed Song (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover)
The Mushroom Hunters (read by Neil Gaiman)
Brick (Ben Folds Five cover)
Really got this Death Thing down (new song)
Zombie (The Cranberries cover) / Half Jack
The Ride

Encore:
Ukulele Anthem (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover)

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