Amanda Palmer – Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh; August 17th, 2018
Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh was the location of my third encounter with Amanda Palmer and it was one of the special kind. The more I see her, the more I wonder why it took me so long to find her. The concerts are always an emotional as well as amzing rollercoaster ride with deeply personal stories and many sad songs. Yet there is always a reason to laugh as well, which usually balances the sad. It’s probably not for everyone, but I’m loving it and I’m already happy I will get to see her again tomorrow.
After Dublin I’d been looking forward to the Edinburgh shows, but they seemed so far away still. Then, all of a sudden it was time to pack and get on a plane. The city greeted me with rain, but by the time I got downtown it had stopped. I checked in, changed and met up with K. for a late but great vegan lunch. There were a few hours left to explore the city, before I went to the venue. K. had given her ticket for the night to her friend E. and we met st the venue. Imagine my surprise when I realized that row B was the front row and I was directly in front of Amanda’s microphone. Yay!
The concert started at 7:30 on the dot. Amanda stepped up to the mic with her blue ukulele and played ‘In my Mind’. It was the perfect start. 🙂 She told us about a three star review she got, saying that her show was “for hardcore fans that did not expect here to be held accountable for her dubious life choices”. It led to much laughter, even more so when she stretched how anyone who expected that was in the wrong place. We all cheered when she said that such people should fuck off!
She said she wanted to tell the truth more than ever as so many women do lately when they share their stories and then talked about previous times she had come to The Fringe Festival and how ten years ago she had to have an abortion because an antibiotic she had taken hurt the fetus. Therefore she did not get to do and see everything she wanted to do at Fringe and on top of it all she twisted her ankle when on a rainy day she left the house for a jog. It sounded funny when she told the story, especially about the three women who came to help but would not call her a cab. I’m sure it wasn’t funny when it happened though. Then she sat down at the piano and went right into ‘Coin-operated Boy’, stopping in-between and turning to us with what I would describe as a fake, doll like smile. I loved the performance of the song with sudden stops and parts repeated like a broken record.
Amanda talked more about abortion. It was one of the recurring themes of the night. The next song would be one with an easily recognizable sing-along part she let us know before ‘Oasis’ and during the song she even announced that it was coming up soon, but we still messed it up, so we had to try again. 😀 We heard more about her first abortion at 17 and how horrendous it was to walk through the picket line to enter the clinic. He mom and boyfriend where with her and tried to protect her, but it still must have been bad. When she wrote and released the song she did not expect the backlash she would get from feminists who accused her of making light of date rape and abortion. They just didn’t get the satire. She mentioned how she generally never gets backlash when she expects it and sometimes gets blindsided unexpectedly. She continued talking about how life shapes and inspires you and mentioned how dark and fucked up the lives of many stand-up comedians are. “This is a story someone told me and I made it into a song” was the introduction to ‘The Bed Song’. I cried. It was so beautifully sad.
Afterwards she said that people have told her they got a divorce thanks to that song. She also pointed out that we were in for a three hours show and that it was full of sadness so she wanted to give us all a chance to escape from too much sadness. If any of us got too sad we should say something like “Amanda, I can’t take it any more” and she’d play us a happy song. She referred to it as a palate cleanser. Immediately after someone got up and said they could not take it anymore so she grabbed her ukulele, stepped off stage, walked amongst the audience and sang Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. 😀 Many people sang along and those in the back got a closer look at her too. It was great and it sure made me feel better.
“And now for the sadder song” she continued and told us about her last album that she crowdfunded on Kickstarter and that she got a lot of backlash for it. That same year, her best friend Anthony got sick with cancer. She talked about how he was her mentor and how much he taught her and how he would never tell her what to do, no matter how lost she felt. She said the only time he ever did was when he told her to break up with a junkie boyfriend. To be near Anthony an be able to visit him in the hospital she and Neal moved to a house nearby. It was the first time they lived together and she felt she had no place to write songs any more. She made it sound funny saying that she needed to be alone and moved from the house to the garage “and then the recycling people came”. In the end the song was written by the fence in the backyard. It was ‘Bigger on the inside’. It puts all the emotions during that year into words. “We are so much bigger than anyone can ever see.” Interlaced with the song was the story of writing her book and becoming pregnant during that time thinking she wasn’t ready to have a child and how she should not have one if she was thinking that. In the end she decided to have an abortion and told us about how terrible the abortion clinic was and how she could not go through with it, but was lucky enough to be able to choose another, friendlier one. It made me feel terrible for the women who can’t chose. Ben Folds’ ‘Brick’ was next. If anyone who is opposed to abortion or may not want to hear about the topic accidentally had ended up at Queen’s Hall that night, they would have run out screaming by now. It was hard to hear all those stories, but I agree that it is an important topic to talk about, so people are aware that it is not something uncommon, but part of many women’s lives.
Amanda promised she’d give us the gift of an intermission after the next song and there’d be a special guest in the second half. Before though, she wanted to play us a happy dark song about having a baby. When she decided to have a child she says it pissed her of that it ade her feel that it finally give her the authority to talk about abortion. She was also dead scared that she’d become a boring songwriter after she did. That didn’t happen though. 🙂 ‘A Mother’s confession’ was written after she and Jason Webley challenged each other to write several songs in one day and in the end it was only one, because there was so much other stuff to do first and it became really long because there was no time to edit. The song is funny and loving and beautiful and what I assume is a pretty accurate description of the things that can happen when you have a new baby in your life. It was a lovely gift to send us of to the intermission with. 🙂
Soon, Amanda was back on stage and introduced her special guest, burlesque dancer Kelly Ann Doll. She was amazing and like Amanda she shared personal stories. It was sad and funny and great to hear her talk about relationships and how she first became a stripper. “I knew I was in an abusive relationship, but how do you explain it if there are no bruises on your skin?” We all cheered when she talked about finally leaving that abusive man. Then she danced, and how she danced, to the tune of James Brown’s ‘It’s a Man’s world’. She stripped too, going into the audience, throwing clothes at us. It was actually great fun to watch. 🙂
‘The Killing Type’ was amazing, powerful and the perfect first song for the second half. Amanda hit the piano as if there was no tomorrow and belted out the song at the top of her lungs. We learned that she wrote it on ukulele, because she did not have a piano available. Someone asked her to play it like that, but she replied “It doesn’t sound good” then promised that one day she would.
She told us about financing her album ‘Theater is Evil’ through Kickstarter and how well it worked, but that she did not want to do that every time and without being on a label she was looking for a different way to have an income when she found Patreon. At first she wasn’t sure how to work with it, but then realized how good it is to do one thing at a time. She liked to work on a deadline and experimented with getting inspirations from people so she asked for comments on Patreon about what was going on in people’s lives and after she’d read them all she had set some time aside to work on a song based on that. Then she made what she called “a rookie mistake”, joking about Taylor Swift’s latest song on Facebook, saying Taylor was finally turning goth and should maybe change her sponsor (UPS) to something black like coal. People didn’t get it so she had to spend time explaining instead of working. All plus having recently seen the total eclipse and floods in the US due to hurricane Harvey all mixed together in her head and turned into ‘Drowning in the Sound’. It sure is a powerful mix. Depending on my state of mind I find different relatable parts in the lyrics, even though I have never been in a flood (or seen a total eclipse for that matter). Still, some images are universal and the feelings that come with them speak volumes to me.
Amanda told us that she wanted to write an abortion song from a perspective other than ‘Oasis’, but could not find her voice for it and didn’t know from which perspective she wanted to write it so she sat on the idea for a long time. Finally, she went to Dublin just as the abortion referendum happened, because she was playing a show there. The women she saw there helping each other, the people she met, the celebrations she saw after the referendum passed and people danced in the streets finally gave her the inspiration she needed, the voice she was looking for and she wrote ‘Voicemail for Jill’. I’d never heard it before and instantly loved it. It fits right in with the way she approaches the topic in general: open and honest and with great sensitivity and even the hint of smile in the end. Perfect. <3
When it was over someone yelled “I’m too sad” so she thought about what to play, then decided on ‘The Vegemite’. It sure got people to laugh again and it must be one of the funniest love songs ever written. Afterwards she told us about traveling to South Africa while being pregnant and having a miscarriage, alone at a hotel, feeling she could handle this on her own and she did. Having booked studio time in South Africa she sat there with all the sad songs she had written, that she might as well name “saddest album ever” and then mentally patting herself on the back for dealing with all her grieve so well. Thus, she wrote a song about it. It was ‘Really got this Death Thing down’ the song she had played but not named in Dublin. It was still great and still hard to listen to. So far I’d gotten exactly the emotional rollercoaster I had been expecting.
We were nearing the end of the show, Amanda got up from the piano and grabbed her ukulele again while the stage hand set up the microphones. She looked around and asked us if there was anyone in the audience who thought they were never going to play an Instrument, because they had no musical talent whatsoever. Slowly and shyly I raised my hand. She looked at me and asked me for my name. After I’d told her she said “Stefanie, you are wrong. Listen!” and launched into ‘The Ukulele Anthem’. The song comes across as so light and funny it really makes me want to believe the world would be a better place if we all played the ukulele. This night I especially noticed the line about bringing “your Nikon lens” and briefly wondered if she added that because she was lookig at my camera. She didn’t, it’s in the original lyrics, it was very fitting though. 😀 After the song, while I was just taking a picture of her, she pointed at me and motioned for me to join her on stage. WHAAAA? I had no idea what was happenng and it took me a moment to figure out she really wanted me to come up there. She even helped me up. Then, with a smile she handed me her Ukulele. I was in shock, did not no was to say, so I stammered “Oh my God, thank you!” and hugged her. It was wonderful! Then I stumbled off stage, still not sure what had just happened, but with a huge smile on my face, clutching the precious ukulele. That was it, if I’d died right then and there I would have died happy. Never in a million years would I have expected that to happen. Wow, just wow! 😀 Much much later I briefly wondered how idiotic I might have looked, but it didn’t bother me at all. This was a once in a lifetime moment and I will cheerish it until the day I die. Thank you Amanda! I will have to learn how to play it now.
The gig wasn’t over yet, everyone stood and cheered and clapped so loudly that she came out again telling us it might be the only one of these shows that ‘s be 3 hours and 15 minutes long. She mentioned her show the next day and said if we knew anyone who’d benefit from it we should bring them along. We got one last backstory too, about her asking her Patreon followers (patrons?) what was going on in their lives and all the stories they shared about family and deaths in their lives and how it all became a song. She sat down at the piano once more and played us ‘The Ride’. It was the perfect end to the show and for the first time I fully appreciated that song. What a night! I could not have been happier.
In My Mind
Coin-Operated Boy (The Dresden Dolls song)
The Bed Song (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover)
Creep (Radiohead cover)
Bigger on the Inside
Brick (Ben Folds Five cover)
A Mother’s Confession
The Killing Type (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover)
Drowning in the Sound
Voice mail for Jill
Vegemite (The Black Death)
Really Got This Death Thing Down
Before she left, Amanda announced she would be playing at the birthday party for “The Forrest Cafe” a bit later and invited us all to come. Hell yes, we would! Thus, instead of waiting by the merch table for her to come out, E. and I went to her Apartment to meet up with K. and K. I was still in shock about the ukulele and only when K. checked it out I realized it was signed. Wow again.
The Forrest Cafe was right downstairs, but unfortunately the party did take place elsewhere, wo we had a bit to walk. As we arrived Amanda was just starting to play. The place was crowded and we could not really see her from downstairs so we moved up, made it about halfway through he room. Luckily the people at the front sat down when she moved form ukulele to piano and we could see better. it was a wonderful small show among happy fans with a contortionist adding crazy moves to one of the songs, I think it was ‘Killing Type’. For ‘Creep’ Amanda ventured into the crowd and played her ukulele amongst us. During ‘Missed me’ she managed to break the piano pedal. I don’t think anyone did mind.
I can’t really remember how long she played or what the songs were, but it was amazing. the place was hot so I sweat bucketloads, but that didn’t matter at all. what mattred was being there, my first ninja gig and loving it. She ended with saiyng she’d play more but she’d lose here voice and she had another show to do the next night. She gave a ukulele to The Forrest Cafe and said goodbye. We left her with huge cheers.
There was no point in staiyng and on the way out we saw Amanda leave. Soon it was time for us to say goodbye as well. It was great, see you tomorrow.
Setlist (as far as I remember)
In my mind
The Killing Type
Creep (Radiohead cover)
The Ukulele Anthem