On the power of stories, songs and compassion

Amanda Palmer – Union Chapel, London; December 14, 2019

That night, after the show, I knew all the words I wanted to write about this, expressing how it felt to be there, but now they are all a jumble in my head. However, it was an amazing concert, no short of great moments. The most powerful on though, was this: During the show, Amanda asked everyone to raise their hands if they’d ever had an abortion or had ever taken someone to an abortion or even just knew someone who’d had an abortion. When we did she instructed us to look around and I swear there were only a handful of people who did not have their hands up in the air. Because abortion touches everybody and yet too many of us are afraid to talk about it.

I got to London just fine, my flight even landed a little early, but then my bus was delayed and when I finally arrived at my hostel I realized I was not going to make it to Union Chapel on time for Shintaido. 🙁 Thus I opted for resting a bit and then going to the venue. When I arrived there were maybe six prople in line and they kept my spot so I could get some good. While we waited I chatted with K., A. And a woman from Italy whose name I can no longer remember. It was her first show ever and for K. It was the first as well even though she’d been a fan for year. A. Had seen the show un Cambridge and wanted one more. Total opposite of the crowd I was with a week earlier. Shintaido was over and more people arrived. I said hello yo C., more chatting happened, we all had a good time. I was getting more excited by the minute and when they let ud in we scored great seats in fourth row.

Everyone around us seemed happy and got ready for the show with last minute purchases from the merch or hot drinks. Ten minutes or so before the start Neil came out from backstage and proceeded to sit in the same tow we were in, on the same bench even, just on the other side. Everyone I was with got really excited and took pictures of him. I didn’t, he was there as a private citizen after all, coming to see his wife. Cal, the master of ceremonies, interviewed a few people for the ongoing webcast and got everyone to yell “I love you” – we all needed this, I know i did.

Soon Tory Amos’ ‘Cornflake Girl’ started playing and our Italian friend was already in tears. Awwww. Soon Amanda walked in from the back to huge cheers. She was playing her ukulele, but didn’t start singing until she reached the stage.  ‘In my Mind’ started with “I’m sorry about your country”, before she got into the song. It was a perfect start nonetheless and I had the feeling this was gonna be great. Already I had laughed at the comments she made during the first song and I knew there was more of this ahead. She greeted us and spoke about the previous day’s general election in the UK,  won by the tories and how sorry she was. During these dark times she mused, what could she fo to help with her art. What did it mean compared to a real adult job? I wanted to jump up and shout “it means everything!” I cannot count the number of times music had saved me, especially from the dark. We all need artists to bring light.

It was interesting to me that after seeing this show eight times already, this one still felt different, a bit like seeing it with fresh eyes again. I don’t know if I was because I was in a different mood than a week before or if it was because it was the first time I had not brought my camera since Berlin, but somehow everything felt new and fresh again and all the emotions came back to me. The stories hadn’t changed, at least not hugely. If anything there were little tweaks here and there. What I did notice is that Amanda goofed up a few times, getting a few words wrong. She seemed more nervous than usual. None of it mattered though, because all the emotions was right and this audience got it. 🙂

“I still got my health, at least that’s what they tell me” the line in ‘Runs in the Family’ goes, yet somehow I heard her sing “I still got my hope…” – it somehow fit the night better and the current state of the world. Still having hope is definitely needed right now. The song seemed extra powerful too. Everything about this night was and I find it difficult to put it into words. I feel I have said pretty much all that needs to be said about the show, apart from retelling every word and this one is still available to watch, to Patrons at least. Of course if you only read this one post about this one concert and have never seen the show, you probably would not have a clue what I was going on about.

Amanda is such a great storyteller and amazing at intertwining them. The first part of the show goes from being tied naked to a table by an abusive non-boyfriend to her relationship with her best friend Anthony to important people in her life dying to abortion and doubts about motherhood. She masterfully weaves all these different threads together, never losing one, even though she goes back and forth between all of them. Listening to her tell these stories alone would make me come to the show, yet the best part is how the stories are mixed with just the right songs to underline each point she makes – it should be, she’s a musician after all. This is not your regular concert, but that makes it so much better!

She speaks a lot about Anthony and the more I hear it, the better I can picture him. It also makes me think of the great friendships in my life, what I have learned from them and what I love about them. when she mentions how much of a paradox he was, loving yoga and promoting radical compassion while at the same time collecting weapons and being obsessed with self defense, it feels like the perfect point in the concert to play ‘Machete’, but that is not happening yet. Instead it leads to stories of calling him late at night when she could not deal with a lot of loved ones dying and being depressed as a result. She stopped writing then and beat herself up about it, because as a goth, she felt she should be using these feelings.

Eventually though the Dresden Dolls came along and with them a supportive, stage experienced bandmate pushing her forward. With it also came a community of people who got her, got them and were happy to have found music that spoke to them and helped them. That touched on another theme running through the show: having a community that understood versus critics that did not. It was all well until this safe space was invaded after she emphasized with one of the Boston marathon bombers and suddenly the people who had always been on her side disappeared. It must have felt very lonely and scary. She had stopped writing, but had parties to deliver for Kickstarter and finally wrote “something honest” to play at one of them. ‘Bigger on the inside’ was the result and the way she performed it drove me, her and probably everyone else in the house to tears.

None-waterproof mascara led to accidental face paint when she wiped her eyes and she gladly took the tissue someone offered. Several people throw tissue packages on to the stage and she joked about being killed by an onslaught of tissue.The story continued and it was still sad, yet brought laughter from time to time. At this point she told us we were allowed to leave if it was too much and otherwise call out “Amanda, I’m too sad” to get to hear the opening chords of ‘Coin-operated Boy” – “just don’t abuse the privilege”. Then she went right back in talking about sadness and how she got into a kerfuffle over the Guardian not wanting to cover the show and the ugly shit that followed. She reacted with an unexpected panic attack before her show in Portugal. It hurt to hear her say this and yet I was glad she speaks about such things so openly. It is a good reminder that even people we regard as string can get to a breaking point and that it is OK. Sometimes we all just need a shoulder to cry on.

I think it is the honesty and the willingness to go deep and bare her soul night after night is what I love most about Amanda and especially this show. It it so raw and emotional and brave and I cannot imagine anyone not being touched by it. Once again I alternated between crying and laughing and knowing that it was all going to be OK. She considers it her job to go into the dark and bring light and she does take that job seriously. <3 When she spoke about her indecisiveness regarding having children, one of the biggest laughs happened when she said she thought she’d figured it out “when she was older – like 35”. Apparently there were a lot of people in their forties in the audience. 😛 The biggest comic relief in the first half was ‘Part of your World’ though and the four voices Amanda asked us to imagine while listening to it. The song involved beautiful lights reflected by a disco ball too. 😀

Right after she took us back into the dark for a lesson in the American health system and the difference between getting an abortion at an anonymous place blasting Adam Sandler movies and a nicer, but more expensive place, where you get treated like a human being not a number. I keep wondering what it would be like in Germany. Abortions are still illegal in my country and while you can get one, they will make you jump through hoops of a mandatory consultation and then two days waiting time. How you get treated then, would not know, because I have never spoken to anyone who went through it in my country, at least not knowingly. It is really a topic that should be talked about more, without shame. We have a long way to go.

We heard about her getting pregnant with Ash and losing Anthony two month before her son was born and if that hadn’t been enough to drive me to tears, ‘Machete’ certainly did. I love that song and then and there it seemed like on eof the strongest performances I have heard. <3 Of course she spoke a lot more about Ash and wanting to take care of him alone in the beginning. ‘A Mother’s Confession’ ended the first set and the audience did a great job singing along. Judging by the webcast, the previous night’s audience had not been so much into singing, but we were good “abortion Beatles” on ‘Oasis’ and loudly proclaimed that “at least the baby didn’t die”.

During Intermission I had just enough time to go to the toilet and get some ice cream, before it continued. I gave up on buying merch. I’d done that before the show, but wanted an extra Christmas card. Later then.

Amanda was back and asked if we even needed ‘Coin-operated Boy’ – of course we did! It got huge cheers too. Oh and I need to mention the fabulous velvet gown she was wearing when she came back out. 🙂 We then heard about Ash developing free will and wanting to see ‘Frozen’ instead of the movies Amanda offered to show him. I am not a parent, but I suppose if you are you go through a lot of these moments when things do not work out like you have planned them.

She spoke about the restorative justice retreat she had attended at a prison and how complicated compassion is. At the retreat, victims of crimes came together with prison inmates who had committed such crimes and while one side speaks about what it felt like to be a victim, the other side apologizes and strives to understand what they have done, seeking forgiveness. It sounds like a difficult experience, even if you are “just” watching it. From there she went on to speak about her Patreon and how it has changed her writing and given her artistic freedom. A perfect rendition of ‘Drowning in the Sound’ followed. This time, she incorporated a bit of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ into it. That song always gets to me. I especially love how in the end Amanda closes her fist and the lighst go out at the same time to the words “and you keep feeding the dark”.

“if you can, you must” was next on the menu and we heard about what Amanda feels is her job as a performer and what isn’t. It comes down to share the things you can and talk about the topics you know about and not pretending things are OK or making the audience comfortable. She could have done a regular show, but chose not to, telling us who had inspired her to make that choice. Thus, we got a show where we heard a lot about abortion. One of the highlights was ‘Voicemail for Jill’ and the moment I have described at the beginning. The song was beautiful. It always is. 🙂

Hearing about her miscarriage was sad, but also very empowering, because the lesson she draws from it is that we come equipped to deal with miscarriages and death. She wanted us all to know this and then played ‘Let it go’ which lightened the mood. Amanda said goodbye and we would not stop cheering and clapping and stomping our feet until she was back. She thanked everyone involved with the show, her Patrons and Neil too before she shared one last story about the restorative justice retreat and one last song. She told us how kind all the prisoners were to her and asked who deserved compassion, listing different people, including Boris Johnson. When a few people yelled “No!” she challenged them to come up and fight her on this. She concluded that “fucking everybody” did deserve it and then played us ‘The Ride’ of course, the perfect ending to a perfect evening. :’)

A few more thank you’s and bows and to thunderous applause she left. A little bit later she returned for the Patreon photo and I lost my new friends in the shuffle. Got a lovely hug from Amanda in passing and manage to give her some chocolates I had brought. Then it was time to leave before they kicked us out. Went to the merch, bought the second holiday card I needed, then went outside. K. had already left, but I said goodbye to the Italian woman and ended up walking to the tube with A., before we finally parted ways at Euston station. What a great night it had been.

Setlist

In my Mind
Runs in the Family
Bigger on the inside
Oasis
Part of your World (Jodi Benson cover)
Machete
A Mother’s Confession

Coin-operated Boy
Drowning in the Sound
Voicemail for Jill
Let it go (Idina Menzel cover)
The Ride

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