Few singer-songwriters working today have the enormous back catalog and loyal fanbase that Tori Amos does. In a recent interview with Vulture’s David Marchese, Amos mentioned that touring has been her “bread and butter” for many years—and speaking as one of her loyal fans, there is a reason why so many of us keep going to her shows. Her current tour for her album Native Invader has been praised by her die-hard fans, and although there is a saying that there is “no such thing as a casual Tori Amos fan” (not inaccurate, in my experience), Amos’s showmanship and skills as a performer are unparalleled.
Amos’s show at the Oakland, California’s storied Paramount Theater was my 10th time seeing her in concert. I was not expecting any surprises, because I know the drill with these, or thought I did: Tori performs a lot of deep cuts from her back catalog, and there is a different setlist every show; she always does two encores; some drunk dingus will probably scream in the middle of a quiet song; there will almost always be one song she performs that’s not quite a fan favorite, but that garners polite applause nonetheless; another tipsy doofus screams “I LOVE YOU, TORI!!!” at some point. I was expecting all of these things to occur, and most of them did by the end of the night.
What I did not expect was the breadth of Sunday’s setlist—after Amos blasted through the first song, an outstanding version of “Cruel” from 1998’s from the choirgirl hotel, it was clear that she was bringing her A-game to this show (to use a very overused metaphor). I hope Amos is paying her lighting and stage designers handsomely—gorgeous lighting and a minimalist, forest-themed projected backdrop helped to bring many of her new arrangements of classic songs to life, even as it tended to reflect a sort of Winter holidays in Twin Peaks theme.
The first segment of the concert was heavy on Amos’s b-sides; this section included a looping, slightly-too-long version of 1994’s “Sister Janet,” Native Invader’s extremely political b-side “Russia,” and “Angels,” the best song on the hilariously titled 2003 best-of compilation Tales of a Librarian. People were excited about that last one—probably because she does not perform it live too often. My favorite moment from the first half—and perhaps of the whole show, although there were tons of highlights—was Amos’s gentle reworking of 1994’s “Bells For Her,” a heartrending narrative about the end of a friendship.
After two excellent covers—Bette Midler’s “The Rose” and The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” respectively—the show’s second half was distinguished by an absolutely blistering version of the Southern Gothic-y “Little Amsterdam,” an emotional “Carbon,” and a mesmerizing version of choirgirl b-side “Purple People (Christmas In Space).” Sunday’s show marked the first time that I’d heard several of my favorites of Amos’s songs (because no Tori super-fan can pick just one) played live.
For people who might want to ask, “Why do you need to see Tori Amos ten times?” here’s your answer: Amos has so many incredible songs and such depth as a performer that, if you’re a fan, you go to her shows just to see what she’s going to sing next.
To sum it up: if you’re reading this because you can’t decide whether to go to an Amos show—whether because you are a more casual fan, are just getting into her music, or are not familiar with her live performances–just buy the ticket(s) and go. The worst that could happen is that you’ll get sick of the piano noodling, or perhaps the songs that stretch into seven or eight-minute versions and that barely resemble their studio counterparts.
Photo credit: Rufus/Creative Commons