Amanda Palmer – Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh; August 18th, 2018
On the way home from the concert I turned to my friend K. and said “I wonder how she does it. I’m drained and I was only listening.” That pretty much sums it up. Amanda Palmer’s performance at Queen’s Hall was so emotional and so intense it left me exhausted. Yet I felt blessed to have been able to witness this show, twice in a row even and I could not have been happier about it. It was as heart-warming as it was gut-wrenching and I cannot imagine anyone in the audience not being moved by it. For three hours Amanda Palmer sang her heart out, shared deeply personal stories, cried, laughed and honestly showed us her emotions for every step of the way. I turn I cried and laughed and allowed her to take me through a rollercoaster of emotions at the end of which I felt we had shared something so intimate and so special I find myself struggling for words to describe it.
After spending a day out and about walking Edinburgh, running on too little sleep and too much caffeine, I found myself outside Queen’s Hall for the second night in a row. I didn’t get there all that long before the doors opened and was inside soon after. I shared a happy moment with a couple to my right who discovered that Row B was actually at the front. The woman had been an Amanda fan for years and it was her first concert so I was excited for her. K. arrived and we chatted until it started – a little late this time.
The setlist was essentially the same it had been the previous night and yet it was a completely different show. The stories differed, some in little nuances, some by a lot and the performance wasn’t the same either. If at all possible it was even more intense than it had been the night before. While we were waiting I had tried to describe to K. how that show had been. Someone had pointed out that Amanda had seemed so sad and that was true, but the best description I could come up with was “raw”. Tonight it she seemed much happier, but the show was just as raw, open and honest as the other one had been to a level that felt painful at times. Even though most of the things she talked about are far from my personal experiences, everything she said connected me to my own experiences and my own pain. It was incredibly hard to sit through and at the same time incredibly beautiful. I was exhausted by the end of it, but I also felt cleansed and ready for a new day, a new start.
She started with ‘In my Mind’ and explained the line about being 120 pounds “In American that is thin”. It was lovely and gave us a reason to laugh, because she fucked up the lyrics, said out loud that she did and then added “I did that on purpose”. 🙂 The lyrics as such lead to laughter as well. I can fully relate to thinking that my life didn’t quite happen the way I thought it would, but it doesn’t matter, because “I am exactly the person I want to be”. When Amanda sang that line. I believed her. 🙂 She told us she screwed up because she was thinking about what to say next and that she wanted to be honest with us that night and tell true stories. She added that she felt a change with more and more women speaking up and sharing stories and asked us if we felt that too. Hell yes and it’s about time too. She mentioned the three star review again and referred to herself as a confessional Singer/Songwriter. To much laughter she made it clear who should fuck off because they would not enjoy the show.
As she did the previous night she shared the story about the abortion she had in Edinburgh eight years before and it was slightly different. She added more details about her feelings and not yet having learned how to deal with something this huge in a relationship that still was very new at the time. It was somehow deeper, yet more light-hearted than the previous night. She even joked about playing a minor chord to underline the sadnes. It is not an easy story to listen to, but it sure gets the point across that the person on stage maybe suffering a lot more than the audience is aware.
‘Coint-operated Boy’ was brilliant and accompanied by much laughter from the audience. Generally it seemed like this audience laughed a lot more than the one the night before. Most importantly though they listened to Amanda’s stories and gave her a platform to tell them. It was wonderful to hear her speak, even at the most gut-wrenching moments, because the room we were in felt like a safe place to do so, to tell any story without being judged for it. Despite the place being filled with several hundred people it felt as intimate as sitting around a campfire with a handful of close friends. She spoke about being at an age where she spent a lot time thinking about why she wrote the songs she is writing and reflecting on how her life had been going. All I could do was nod. I may have never written a song in my life, but I certainly know what it feels like to reconsider and evaluate everything.
She mentioned how she wanted to write a song about abortion but could not figure out how and how it haunted her. We learned how she experimented with dropping the Information about her abortion and how good it was to talk about the experience with random people in a sense that she learned she wasn’t alone and everyone had a story. She then shared the story of her first abortion at 17 where she was lucky enough to be supported in her decision and the song she wrote about it. She faced a lot of backlash from people who didn’t understand it was satire and mentioned how everyone in Britain got it. A great rendition of ‘Oasis’ followed and again our sing-along part only worked the second time around. I found myself in the strange situation of beeing deeply moved and very amused at the same time an it felt pretty good.
Again Amanda gave us a wild card to stand up and say “Amanda, I’m too sad” at any point during the show and that it had worked well the night before. This time around, it didn’t happen immediately. She shared how wonderful, yet strange it was to be in a committed relationship and how she’d had no idea what that would do to her and her songwriting. Then she played us ‘The Bed Song’ and I dissolved into tears. It is hauntingly beautiful and it sure makes me think of the stuff that went wrong in my relationships because we did not communicate enough. “i would have told you if you’d only asked me” in my head morphed into “ask, don’t assume” and a few missed chances because I did not. It also made me realize that it is not too late to do better next time. :’)
Somewhere during that first part of the show, while she was sitting at the piano I had a Springsteen moment. Something about how she sat there, how she sang, how she talked made me think “you learned that from Springsteen on Broadway”, remembering the blog post she wrote about that show and how she wanted her own to be more structured. I can’t pinpoint which song it was, but it sure made me smile.
‘Bigger on the inside’ moved me to tears as well and I heard several other people snivvel from time to time. She sat the mood just right, talking about all the things happening around the time she wrote the song, like the sudden death of a good friend and mentined how through all of that she played concert and had to work through a lot of things and needed to write about them. I felt all of that and just let the tears run down my face, strangely surprised by how much I was enjoying all the emotions flooding me. The song happened before I joined her Patreon, but I am happy I made it there, even if I was late to the party.
Amanda called Andrew O’Neill to the stage and it made me happy to see him again after Dublin. I cannot remember details, but their initial chat was very funny. Just the right kind of comic relief I needed. They have made a video together and performed that song for us. It was all about bad and unpleasant stuff being sold with the help of soothing ukulele music. At the end Andrew grabbed the beautiful red ukulele from Amanda and smashed it to pieces on the back of a chair with ukulele parts flying all over the place. Judging by Amanda’s expression it wasn’t planned that way, but it was funny nonetheless. She just said “We’re gonna need another ukulele.”
Then she left the stage to Andrew to tell his abortion story, about him and his wife that he had already shared in Dublin. It was longer this time and funny in a very dark sort of way. It also had a lot of truth in it. What I remember most vividly is his description of the other comedian who had shown baby pictures learning in to his wife saying something like “Look, babies. You know you want them” and Andre’s question “On which planet is such behavior OK?” Exactly! Whether the person you are facing wants kids or not, this is not OK. I wanted to hug him at that moment. It felt good to laugh about a topic that is rarely talked about, much less joked about. It also feels really important to do that right now when abortion rights are under attack in the US and in Germany people openly talk about taking rights away from women who are not mothers. Being a mother is a choice and it should be!’ Brick’ followed and the more often I hear it, the better it gets.
Amanda shared stories about Anthony, their friendship, the things he taught her, his struggle with cancer and his death. Every word was so full of love and the loss she feels was so palpable it was heart-breaking. She played ‘Machete’, one of my favorites and again I cried, thinking of the loved ones I have lost. It was the point where I wanted to cry out “I’m too sad”, but I felt I’d had enough attention the previous day and the intermission wasn’t far now. It may have been at this point of the show that she gave away a dress and a cardigan she had worn in the video for ‘The Anti-Ukulele Anthem’, because she did not want to take them home.
Luckily the last song before we got a break was ‘A Mother’s Confession’ complete with a sing-along of “at least the baby didn’t die”. The song is quite funny in my opinion and it really cheered me up, even though everyone is crying in it. Now it was break time. Taking a deep breath, I spent as some time looking around, asked the woman next to me how she liked the show so far (she loved it), went to the toilet, rested and prepared myself for the second half.
The previous night we’d had a guest at the beginning of the second set and I half expected Neil to join Amanda on stage, because she had said he’d be there and we had seen him earlier, It didn’t happen though, there were not any more guests for the night. Instead, Amanda sat down at the piano and went straight into ‘The Killing Type’. the song had so much power and she hammered the keys with such force, I thought she might destroy another piano pedal. 😉 She wanted to know if we’d enjoyed the Intermission and most people agreed it was a good idea. “I thought of calling the record ‘There will be no intermission’ and then having an Intermission.” 😀 She told us it was new for her to be in show mode and go backstage in-between. Then she joked about how she’d talked to Neil backstage and the only thing he commented on was her saying that science fiction writers are screwed up. It lead to much laughter and she clarified that everyone she knows is screwed up somehow.
Amanda talked about how Kickstarter is for one off projects, but Patreon can provide a steady income. I fully understood. It is such a good tool to support the art you love. She let us know how she wanted to share her songs instantly and not wait for months until an album was ready and how Patreon had given her the freedom to do that. It was interesting to hear her explaining her working process of asking for ideas on Patreon and then taking all the inspiration from the answers she got, mixing it with everything happening around her and turning it into music. She does not always work like that, but it is an experiement that she uses from time to time and it works well for her. She added the story about making a joke about Taylor Swift and the backlash she faced for it, then played ‘Drowining in the Sound’. The song was wonderful and moved me deeply.
We heard about Dublin again and how amazing it had been to be there when the abortion referendum happened. All I could do was nod, I had felt it too. All the stories women told inspired Amanda to finally write the abortion song she wanted to write and the voice she wanted was the voice of one woman talking to another. It is called ‘Voicemail for Jill’ and describes how you are celebrated when you have a baby, but often left alone when you have an abortion. In the song, the woman who speaks offers consolation and just companionship to a woman who is planning to have an abortion. Again I found myself in tears, remembering how Amanda has asked us on Patreon what we would say to someone who had an abortion and how I had cried at the replies. The song is beautiful and soothing, full of everything I’d want my friends to say to me if I ever had an abortion.
Next, she announced a love song to Neil and at this point someone finally said “Amanda, I’m too sad”, which lead to laugher of those who guessed what was coming next. Amanda promised the song would cheer us up and of course it did. ‘The Vegemite’ is hilarious. 😀 We all needed that and laughed a lot during the performance. Now I was ready for sad sories again and we sure got them. She spoke about having a miscarriage and soon after being in the studio with all the sad songs she had already happened, planning to right morem, realizing she had gotten really good at handling grief. ‘Really got this Death Thing down’ was the song that came from it.
Amanda thanked us for coming and announced she would leave us with one final song and there’d be no encore. She thanked Andrew again and mentioned that “When we cannot joke about the dark, that’s when the dark takes over.” Especially these days we need to be able to joke about the dark more than ever. 🙂 ‘The Ukulele Anthem’ was last and gave us the final chance to laugh. It is a great song to end the show, because it leaves everyone smiling. At the very end, Amanda gave away three more ukuleles, then left. Of course I would have wanted her to come back out, but she stayed true to her word and did not. With a deep sigh and a happy smile I gathered my belongings and we walked out.
We got a drink, hoping Amanda would come out for a chat: She didn’t though and we didn’t blame her. That show must have been exhausting. Andrew was there, but somehow we missed talking to him. We both agreed it had been a perfect show and met E. and K. for a final drink before I felt the lack of sleep and needed to go to bed. It was an amazing weekend. I felt deeply grateful for having been there and I am already lookig forward to next year’s tour. 🙂
In my mind
The Bed Song
Bigger on the inside
The Anti-Ukulele Anthem (with Andrew O’Neill)
Brick (Ben Folds Five cover)
A Mother’s Confession
Drowning in the Sound
Voicemail for Jill
Really got this Death Thing down
The Ukulele Anthem