Tori Amos - Manchester Apollo
The first time I saw Tori Amos play Manchester Apollo, it was on her Plugged tour, at the time her most radical reinvention of her live show, incorporating live drums and bass for the first time and bringing it the closest she ever came to a rock show, standing venues and all. That tour dazzled as she frequently took her band off into extended improvs and vamps, daring them to come with her, the songs evolving over the course of the tour.
Flash forward thirteen years, and the Liquid Mistress tour finds Amos undertaking an equally radical reinvention, changing the nature of her show and reinventing her catalogue again. This makes sense given that her most recent album, Night Of Hunters, is a collaboration with prestigious classical label Deutsche Grammophon, and as a result, she is joined by classical string quartet Apollon Musagète. This lends the shows a spirit closer to a classical recital and a set that would never be mistaken for a traditional rock show.
In keeping with the recital feel, there's very little interaction with the audience; in fact only when an in-ear monitor gives her trouble and she breaks into a brief, hilarious improv about how she punishes herself for making mistakes during shows on her days off (by withholding treats, apparently) does she indulge in the kind of musical playfulness that frequently characterises her shows.
Of the work revisited with the quartet, it's the oldest tracks that receive the warmest applause - bolstered by strings, 'Winter' soars, and there's a blisslful rendition of 'Hey Jupiter'. But by far the most interesting are from her guitar-heavy band period - main set closer 'Cruel' sees the string section riffing away aggressively, and 'Suede''s electronic heart finds itself replaced by a beat from slapped violin strings.
Those that were concerned that the string quartet format might interfere with Amos' ability to keep her setlists fluid needn't have worried, with chunks of the set performed solo allowing her to plunder her nearly twenty year back catalogue. It's one of these solo sets that provides tonight's clear highlight, a version of 'Doughnut Song', heavy with emotion and featuring an extended new bridge section.
It's impossible to imagine what outsiders would make of parts of this sometimes deep delve. There are covers (a brief snippet of 'Scarborough Fair' and a breathtaking version of The Cure's 'Lovesong' that was a staple of her earliest live shows), utter obscurities ('Apollo's Frock' is taken from a b-sides disc bundled with a live DVD; 'Take Me With You' only appeared on a multi-disc box set, and 'Carnival' is only available on the soundtrack to a Mission Impossible film). Small outbreaks of talking and restlessness suggest that not everyone was au fait with the material or perhaps hadn't expected the revised format.
The new album material is sensibly interspersed sparingly, with only five songs performed - 'Shattering Sea' is as powerful a live opener as it is on record, but 'Star Whisperer', ten minutes long on record and stripped of the context of the story, feels somewhat interminable live.
Overall though, it's a triumph. The string quartet breath new life into songs that had perhaps become over familiar with time, while the solo sections allow her to fulfil fan requests and go where the mood takes her.
Set List : Shattering Sea / Scarborough Fair / Suede / Velvet Revolution / Leather / Fearlessness / Doughnut Song / Take Me with You / Mr. Zebra / Winter / Cloud on My Tongue / Star Whisperer / Carnival / Apollo's Frock / Lovesong / Your Ghost / Hey Jupiter / Siren / Cruel // A Multitude of Shades / Precious Things /// Carry / Spark / Big Wheel