Tori Amos - Manchester Apollo

I direct anyone unfamiliar with the concept behind Tori Amos's 2007 live shows to my review of this year's album, American Doll Posse. I'll break it down here as efficiently as is possible; forget the Spice Girls reunion and imagine a more grown-up and, as we're dealing with Ms. Amos, stranger five-piece, the titular 'Doll Posse'. Well, the thing is all five are Amos herself - cue lots of blahblahblah about the female psyche and how each gal (one of whom is 'Tori' as played by, well, Tori) represents a fragment of said psyche. Always one for mixing it up, the flame-haired songstress has been alternating between four members of the posse for the opening segment of each show, before having a quick cozzy change and returning to the stage as 'Tori'. Personally, I was hoping for rubber-clad rock chick Pip - or, alternatively, 'Edgy Spice' - who performs the darker songs off the new album. 'Sexy Spice' Santa and 'Political Spice' Isabel had already played to UK audiences on this leg of the tour, visiting London on the two nights prior to this Manchester show. Therefore, the odds were in my favour: it was between Pip and 'Introspective Spice' Clyde. You guessed it! I got Clyde...

Boo hoo for me. Only not. After the initial wave of disappointment as the hippyish Clyde took to the stage, I took stock and realised, 'I'm at a fricking Tori Amos concert!' As a long-term fan, I had been eagerly awaiting this show, my second one in as many years, and her choice of wig and outfit was not going to spoil it for me. Thankfully, Clyde's Bouncing Off Clouds is one of the new album's highlights, and when the dance beat provided by drummer Matt Chamberlain kicks in before Amos begins to tinkle the ivories, the crowd go nuts - well, as nuts as a seated crowd can possibly be. Interestingly, Clyde's six-song act is made up of three songs from Amos's extensive back catalogue. While performances of trippy Juarez and Lloyd Coles's Rattlesnakes are solid but pretty standard, an early high point of the entire evening is her performance of the title track from 1992 debut album, Little Earthquakes. Unfortunately, Clyde's remaining two ballads let the side down a bit, despite strong vocals and the fancy light show accompanying Beauty of Speed's lyric, 'Feel the colours changing'. It's also a shame that the gorgeous Girl Disappearing is not included in Clyde's live repertoire, although the lack of a string quartet probably explains the no-show of this lush orchestral slowie. Before one can dwell too long on the slight negatives, Clyde makes her exit and the pounding house remix of Professional Widow almost transforms the Apollo into the Warehouse Project. Tori awaits us.

Act two commences with a playful rendition of Amos's recent single Big Wheel. Although the piano is lost in the mix at times, Amos being accompanied by Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans, the performance confirms her status as hot mama, despite her distressingly odd - and very sparkly! - sequined jump suit. One assumes the costume choice is to cause minimal disruption as she straddles her piano seat, turning within a beat of a song from her trusty Bösendorfer to an opposing organ and keyboard. The versatility of the keys means the audience are in thrall to her all night, never knowing whether to expect the warm hues of the organ-led Parasol or the energetic piano lines of her biggest hit Cornflake Girl. In fact, much of the setlist tonight reads like a 'greatest hits' package, many of the songs being lifted from the aforementioned Little Earthquakes or her second album, Under the Pink.

Despite the willingness to give the golden oldies a whirl, Amos is obviously aware she has a devout fanbase, as the set is also littered with songs only the most adoring fan would have tracked down. Her cut from the Great Expectations soundtrack, Siren, is perhaps one of the most engaging tracks of the night. Meanwhile, during her solo 'T & Bö' set where her stage band leave for a few numbers, Amos takes an audience request for the anti-homophobia lullaby Merman before going all Judy and playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Considering the high-camp factor, especially now that this is a signature tune at Kylie shows, it's a wonder that Amos's pure vocal manages to weave a unique spell. When the band return, Tori treats us to a powerhouse of the disturbing Spark, as well as her signature pre-encore track of the tour, Code Red, where her voice does all kinds of wonderful things over a backdrop of distorted guitar that really shows off the skills of new on-the-road boy Dan Phelps.

Any Tori fan worth his/her salt will know that the encores of her shows are where the most special moments of the night are likely to happen. When she launches into Precious Things, the aggressive drums helping this primal track translate to a live setting, the night hits its peak. Secret Spell and God get the now-standing audience bobbing their heads back and forth in appreciation but it's up to Hey Jupiter, Amos's regular closer, to truly send the crowds off on their way with smiles on their faces. As she repeatedly hits the high notes of this Boys for Pele-era ballad, one has to wonder why such a talent, one of the most under-valued modern female singer/songwriters, has to create four (or five, if you're counting 'Tori') alter-egos to dress her music up in. Let's hope motherhood and the approaching late-forties don't stop her creating such ethereal and life-enhancing compositions. Long live Tori!

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