She Still Never Played Killer Queen
My 3-Night Stand with Tori Amos: An Assessment of the Experience


Most Tori concert Internet reviews start the same way. “This was my nth show, I’ve been a fan since 19XX, Album X, Tori was SOOOO GOOOOOD” I’ll try not to do that. Instead here’s my own fuzzy memory transcript of a conversation I had with Tori Amos on September 19, 2001, at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square, Manhattan, New York:

ME: So Tori, the next time you do a covers album, a little Queen would be nice.
TORI: I was gonna do Killer Queen!
ME: Aw, what happened?
TORI: Might play it liiiive….
ME: At your Beacon Theater shows next month, that’d be fantastic!
TORI: Which show?
ME: Any. I’ll be at all of them.

I’m really not in the habit of remembering shows, I’m more in the habit of remembering going to shows. The things that happen before, during (apart from the music) and after. So it was that on October the 9th, 10th, & 11th of 2001 I found myself at the Beacon Theater seeing Tori Amos for three concerts, right in a row. I remember going with friends one night. I remember the guy who bought the ticket I had to unload on a sidewalk scalper sitting next to me and commiserating with him about how much he paid and how little I got. I remember going by myself one night right after kung fu class, getting to the Beacon from Bloomfield, NJ in an unprecedented (for the time of day) 38 minutes…I caught every green light going up 10th Avenue, and can still see that emerald chain of light in my mind’s eye, stretching off into infinity with the promise of a great night ahead. What did Tori actually play? I’d need the Internet to know. I certainly remember what she didn’t play. I also remember, after all was done, after sitting through a 3rd interminable opening act, a 3rd performance of ’97 Bonnie and Clyde, a 3rd night of butt-to-seat numbnessosity, thinking, “You know what? I love Tori and all, but I’m never going to do this again.

I could use more sentences, with more commas, to tell to you that I, in fact, did do it again. But I already did. Do it again, and tell you that I did it again. Again.

Here is how it all went down. If I type fast enough, I’ll remember what songs she played and how it sounded.

It started innocently enough. I informed my loving wife, who, throughout this entire adventure was at my side, and whose daily showers of love, patience, support, and understanding are truly more than I ever deserve, that Tori was performing at Radio City Music Hall.

We’ll get tickets, it was decided. Maybe Patty wants to go? We’ll see and then get tickets. Maybe Patty’s sister wants to go see the show in Phillly? Ah, she’s playing in Philly, yes. Maybe we’ll go to that one. Which one will we go to? Maybe we can visit my parents, they live close enough to Philly. We’ll see who wants to go where and when, and we’ll buy tickets to that one show. Which show now? Well, we’ll see what prices are when they go on sale, and then decide.

New York on sale: *click* Bought. Philly on sale: *click* Bought. All right, so I bought tickets to both shows. That’s a change of plan. So we’re going to see both. Hooray.

A week or so later, the Red Bank, NJ show is announced, right smack dab in the middle. What do you know. Surely we can’t go to that one, too. That would be crazy. Red Bank on sale: *click* Bought. Color me certifiable. Honey, now you’re not gonna believe this….

Radio City Music Hall, Manhattan, NY, 8/13/09, ORCH6, ROW JJ, Seats 605-606 – The Appetizer.

I’m happy to note that gone are the 2-hour professional wrestling intros that were the shows of last tour. Today’s Tori concert is a bit more subdued with isolated, controlled rockouts here and there. It makes for an experience that’s downright pleasant. There were parts of the night that took me back to 1996; taking the stage back then were just a girl, her piano, and her bluejeans. The bluejeans were left in Cornwall this time around and replaced by a neverending series of superhero outfits with shimmery leggings, but the girl and her piano are still there…her piano covered with so many extra keyboards that by the next tour, I don’t know where she’ll put them all.

The set list tonight has its highs and lows…the recent re-imagining of ‘Bells for Her’ is brilliant, but I have heard better ‘Raspberry Swirl’s. Most of the songs on AATS have yet to grow on me, excepting ‘Flavor’, an out-of-the-gate favorite, played here to great effect. ‘Strong Black Vine’ is much better heard live than as recorded, the end-of-song string of ad-libbed Mother F-bombs and apoplectic shaking are contributing factors. As it turns out, she does that every night. All in all, a great show.

Well, there was this one thing.

You know, I’ve never done a study on The Effects of Alcohol on a Subject’s Own Interpretation of the Volume of Their Voice, but I kinda don’t have to. You talk really loud when you’re drunk. By “you” I mean you, Mr./Ms. Reader. Your voice gets really loud. It does. I’m all for personal choice, the freedom to choose one’s own actions and then choose to take responsibility for those actions. But what do you do when someone chooses to talk to friends during every song, chooses to get drinks all night from the venue bar that remains open throughout the entire set, chooses to act like a drunken buffoon despite society’s best attempts to stop them? What do you do?

Complain about it on the computer, I guess. Just because these words made it to my keyboard doesn’t mean my hands aren’t up in the air.

Radio City Music Hall, opened in 1932, whose art deco majesty has entertained young and old, whose rigidly upheld standards of stage production have earned it the nickname the “Showplace of the Nation”, home to people who’ll get drunk and spill stuff on you and then leave half-empty glasses on the floor for you to trip over. Places are classy, humans are not. An obvious lesson, yet a lesson I’m forced to relearn every time I leave the house. Still, it was a great show. Still, we had a good time. So we win, readers, we win. Just keep it down.

Count Basie Theater, Red Bank, NJ, 8/14/09, ORCH CENTER, ROW E, Seats 111-112 – The Main Course.

Last night we watched Tori Amos perform. Tonight, friends, we went to a Tori show. Absolutely better than Radio City according to every imaginable metric, this was arguably the best Tori show I’ve seen since my first one. The smallness of the theater had a lot to do with that. The closeness of our seats had a lot to do with that. Fifth row center, no more than 20 feet seperated her mouth from our ears. A lack of obnoxious drunk people also assisted in our enjoyment of the festivities. Imagine having a friendly conversation with a total stranger! And the setlist? ‘Tear in Your Hand’, ‘Take to the Sky’…the stuff of legend. The tour debut of ‘Not Dying Today’. Tori was happy as a clam to be in the 1,500 seat venue and even reminisced about her previous performance there, in 1992. A good time was had by all.

Special shout out to my GPS, for escorting us through the back roads of Central New Jersey, chock full of highways designated with the most ridiculous of numbers. 33? 18? What? It makes no sense. Unfortunately, this will probably be the only time I see a Tori show and then get to drive through Manalapan afterward. Have you ever driven through Manalapan at night? Sheer magic, I tell you. My children are going to love this story.

Onward we drove to Maryland, to spend the weekend with my parents, who live a mere hour away from our next venue.

Tower Theater, Upper Darby, PA 8/15/09, LOGE RIGHT CTR, ROW GG, Seats 1-3 – Dessert.

A hot night in someplace that’s so close you might as well call it Philadelphia (apologies, Upper Darbanites). The Tower Theater has a home sandwiched between sprawling, city block-sized strip malls, and the sidewalks have a lot more blackened gumspots per square foot than most city ordinances allow. In we go.

I’m no audio snob, but I really dug the way the sound bounced off the walls of the Tower Theater tonight. Befitting a concert I’m dubbing the dessert course, Tori’s music drifted up to our loge seats in thick, syrupy forkfuls. Tuning forkfuls. I went into this whole concert experience wanting to hear ‘Cloud on My Tongue’ at some point; once she played ‘Bouncing off Clouds’, and then later ‘Your Cloud’, I thought, “Wow, if she actually plays ‘Cloud on My Tongue’ that would not only be thematically cool, but would also make this one of the best sets ever.” Then she laid ‘Flying Dutchman’ on us. The best (and only) live rendition for years. Totally floored me. Unreal. I then thought, “You know, she doesn’t even have to play ‘Cloud on My Tongue’ after that.” Then she played ‘Cloud on My Tongue’ after that. You sank the battleship of my heart this night, Tori Amos. You even found my destroyer, and you destroyed that in turn. Well done.

As we were snaking our way out of the too-small parking garage I briefly (briefly!) flirted with the idea of doing something I hadn’t done in nearly a decade: Re-park the car and wait around by the tour bus outside the stage door for Tori to come out, and thank her for the weekend she gave us. Didn’t do it. Instead I did what I got incredibly good at all weekend long: I kept driving.

“You go out into the world and all you see is telegraph poles and city streets, and all you hear is the train moving and automobile horns. You see multitudes of people trying to do all sorts of things, and in restaurants and in the streets you hear them talking anxiously. You forget music, and then all of a sudden you remember music. Jesus Christ, you say. There is nothing else.”

William Saroyan wrote that. He was actually writing about traveling at the time, which is fine, because I certainly did plenty of that this weekend to see my 12th, 13th, and 14th (sorry) Tori shows in addition to remembering the music. Hopefully writing all this down will help me recall the actual contents of the set lists as well as the experiences surrounding them. But it might not. In the end, it’s the experience that’s most important to me. I found myself constantly, as I heard each song, reliving the things that were happening the other times I heard each song. I remembered the way the bedspread in my old bedroom felt to the touch, I remembered the layout and architecture of my college dorm room, I remembered the Nobody Beats the Wiz where I bought the ‘Caught a Lite Sneeze’ single. That joint is a Cheeseburger in Paradise now.

I remembered those nights at the Beacon thinking I was never going to repeat that experience. Well friends, I never had to worry. I didn’t repeat that experience. I had a brand new one. One that had nothing to do with the number of times or number of songs or this night better than that night. It had everything to do with my favorite singer singing my favorite songs and me being there to hear them. Tori Amos does not need me to tell her that she can play whatever she wants. I’m probably going to be there every time.

  • sandy

    I’ve not been a Tori fan for a few years now, she lost me around the time she did that covers album…. but it’s nice to read someone’s review about these shows, especially with all of that passion!

  • Patty

    I remember buying boys for pele singles from the Sam Goody in the mall! i also remember thumbing through all the tori CDs (LP’s and EP’s) every time i was in a music store. it was so exciting to find one i didn’t own, or one that didn’t blow… Most of them blow now and only have one or two songs on them. Anyway i’m glad your friend patty got to goto the philly show after all!

  • irongoat81

    tori amos sucks.