Raw virtuosity is not something one encounters often. There's so little of it around in these formula-prone days that when the real thing pops up, it can hypnotize a listener and not let go. That's what happened Saturday at the sold-out Avalon, where Tori Amos floored the crowd with her primal, uninhibited skills.
Amos was playing the fifth date of her Sneak Preview '98 tour, foreshadowing a summer return to Boston, though the date and site have not been announced. Be prepared for a battle for tickets, because Amos's star is skyrocketing. She's already huge (she played the Wang Center and Harborlights last time around), but she's now touring with a band for the first time and has elevated herself to rock goddess level.
She's one of the most expressive singers on the scene, and one of the most chameleon-like. She offers the keening wails of a Kate Bush, the high-floating sustains of a Joni Mitchell, the slinky funk of a Sade, the smoky jazz of a Sarah Vaughan, and the earthy, in-your-face power of an Eddie Vedder.
Add them up and you'll realize why she riveted the crowd. Her range was dazzling and so was her honesty. And though viewed as a guru by some young women, she doesn't pretend to have the answers. She's a minister's daughter who constantly questions the universe and herself.
''Can't we get a little grace and some elegance? No, we scream in cathedrals,'' she sang in new song ''iieee.'' It was one of many new tunes from the album ''From the Choirgirl Hotel,'' due out May 5. The songs had a more cohesive rock context compared with her earlier, piano-based work, but Amos, after begging the crowd's indulgence for so much new material, also dipped into some older faves at Avalon for a well-balanced show. These included the precocious ''God,'' ''Precious Things,'' ''Baker Baker'' (about asking to be made whole again - a common theme), ''Horses,'' and ''Upside Down.''
The sound quality was exceptional, (part of her sound system came from last year's Ozzfest tour) and was mixed by sound engineer Mark Hawley, her new husband. The lighting was evocative and trippy, courtesy of the lighting designer who toured with the Stone Roses.
The new songs were highlighted by the intense vocal flights of ''Cruel'' (''I can be cruel, I don't know why,'' she belted), the prayerful ''Jackie's Strength'' (about praying for the poise of Jackie Kennedy), and the last encore, the lullabye-ish ''Merman.'' Her three-piece backup band was stellar, notably guitarist Steve Caton (a longtime studio collaborator) and drummer Matt Chamberlain, who has worked with Pearl Jam and Edie Brickell.
Because of an early start time, I missed opener David Poe, but I recently saw him in a tuneup at the Green Street Grill in Cambridge, where his melodic songs of the heart were captivating, as was his cover of the Zombies' ''Tell Her No,'' which he also did on Saturday.
This story ran on page C07 of the Boston Globe on
© Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company
"The 90 Greatest Albums of the 90's"
- Tori Amos: From the Choirgirl Hotel #26 -
'I think there are a lot of great female writers, but I don't think there are a lot of great female musicians,' Tori Amos told A.P. with some resignation just before *From the Choirgirl Hotel* was completed. What's always been interesting about Amos is that during the fight to define herself as a *musician*, not a female musician, she's endeared herself to a legion of fans who insist on deification over simple musical appreciation. With *Choirgirl*, Amos' fifth album, Tori the musician left everyone else in the dust, taking her poetic lyrics and clever sense of melody to a new level. She also gave her ever-present piano a new voice by experimenting with acoustics and fuzzboxes, and by playing the often underappreciated instrument the way a guitarist manipulates an axe. While *Little Earthquakes* gave Tori shock value, *Choirgirl* proved that she's an enduring talent with her feet firmly on the ground. (Atlantic, 1998) [RD--Randee Dawn]"
Tori Amos: The Crispy Cornflake Girl
By Carla A. DeSantis
Few artists are more ethereal than Tori Amos, a woman whose piano virtuosity and "really deep thoughts," to borrow a line from her Little Earthquakes album, have won her a steadfast legion of fans. And few modern artists with roots in classical music are as easily embraced by the beat-driven world of modern rock. In this and many other ways, Amos is an enigma. As the daughter of a Methodist minister, young Myra Ellen Amos questioned God and His motives early on, a theme that often crops up in her music. A prodigy who began playing piano at the age of two, Amos was the youngest person ever, at six, to be accepted by and study at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, Maryland. But even then, she danced to her own muse and soon dropped out.
The past year has been a year of stretching and changing for Amos. She recently married and toured for the first time accompanied by a full band to promote her latest release, From the Choirgirl Hotel.
In this interview, Amos talks about her name, her take on marriage, her musical muses and her work with RAINN (the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), an organization she founded in 1994.
How did you pick the name Tori?
I went through a phase as Sammy Jayye. Obviously that wasn't me, but I was obsessed with Sue Ellen from Dallas. Thank God I didn't change it publicly. I was 17 or 18 and I was just noodling around (with names) in my head until a friend's boyfriend rescued me. She only dated him for three days but she brought him down to a club where I was playing. I remember telling her I was
exhausted going through names. It had been nine months and she knew about the Sammy Jayye debaucle.
What happened was, he just looked at me. He didn't even know me but he said, "Your name is Tori." I went, "You know, you're right." She never saw him again. I said, "Thank you, Linda. You're so selfless. The only reason you dated that beautiful hunk was to get me my name."
You just felt that was you?
Yeah, I knew immediately.
Does your family call you Tori?
Yes, they do. My mother calls me Tori Ellen. My sister has a problem with it. She calls me Ellen but not in public because that's disrespectful and she knows it.
How does your family react to your music? I'm sure they must be proud, but I would guess that some of the religious imagery makes
your father wince once in awhile.
He runs my publishing company so, if nothing else, sometimes he can deal with it on a subjective level.
Continuing on the topic of family, I hear that you got married this year. Is that more settling for you or are you still working things out
You always want to balance. Hopefully you're working things out until you're 80, rocking in your rocking chair and waiting to get a shag from Gramps down at the garden.
I'm really into Formula One racing and I look at marriage like we're race car drivers. We're teammates. If his car is in front and somebody is trying to run him off the road and I know they're going after him, they've got to get by me first. And if they've gotten by me, then I'm on their butt. It doesn't matter which one of us wins. It's that we're a team and I know he'd do the same for
me. If my car was out front they'd have to get past him. So if somebody's got to be at your back, he's a pretty good person to have at your back.
So many of your songs seem to be very autobiographical and confessional. Will it be as easy now for you to pull from those things,
or does marriage give you a whole new perspective?
I don't see the songs as confessional. I've never thought of myself as a confessional writer because I associate confession with religion and needing to be absolved and forgiven. I've never asked or wanted to be absolved by God, my father, my President, my nephews or anybody else.
I have to be careful about who's who in the songs because people get a bit touchy about that. Even with friends, I try to guard their identity. Sometimes they corner me, especially a bottle of wine down. But I'm very good about that now. I know there are certain subjects I won't talk about no matter what.
Because everything you say can be scrutinized?
Yeah. The songs have part of my life weaving in and out of them, but there's a lot in the songs. They're very independent of me and yet they're not. There's a dual relationship that goes on, another force.
So much of what you write is spiritual and ripe with religious imagery.
It is, but please, please, let's be clear. I'm not a new age person. I haven't set up my crystal suppository shop yet. I see a lot of people with little red strings around their wrists, seeing their shaman and their guru and there's nothing wrong with that. But then you run into these people or people that know them and you hear that they urinate on their co-workers and you just go, "here we
go again, not walking your talk." It's cocktail spirituality and I'm not interested in that part of it.
So how do you see your work? Is there a phrase that sums it up?
I think they're short stories, more like little myths. All the songs have a beginning, middle and an end. And some of them have part twos and part threes, almost like a comic book series.
Are you less angry these days?
Yeah. Now when I'm angry, it carries a lot more weight with people because I'm very clear about why I'm angry. It's not just 20 years of being pissed off at something you couldn't put your finger on because you had a charge on something that somebody else brought up, where somebody can push your button on a core issue. I'm getting in touch with some of those issues, so now if I'm angry it's usually because somebody did a very poor job at something and I'm nailing their ass.
Tell me a little bit about RAINN.
RAINN is a phone network. We take the people that need to get to the counselors and pick up the bill for that. There are over 600 rape crisis centers in America and they work independently of us, but we are the phone line.
We recently had our 200,000th call, which is good news and bad news. Obviously the good news is that the service is there. There's a lot of nuts and bolts information you can get from RAINN. For example, some people, especially if they're under age and the perpetrator is in the home, need to know their rights. If they run away, what rights do they have being dragged back into the home, especially when the parent that isn't the perpetrator doesn't support the child and won't acknowledge it. Sometimes you just need
legal advice. Sometimes people need doctors. You'd be amazed, the things that come up. It's really quite humbling when you hear the tragic stories that come in every day. *
Tori Amos lights Spark with Boston audience
by SARAH RODMAN
In what has become the most pleasant of turnarounds for a performer, solo piano woman Tori Amos has hit the road with a band, and, simply put, she rocks.
Saturday night at the Fleet Center, her first tour of such big venues, Amos brought "Plugged '98" to 12,000 adoring fans, all mesmerized by her newly mammoth sound.
The voluminous, heavily percussive quality of the 100-minute set -- generated expertly by bassist Jon Evans, guitarist Steve Caton and drummer Matt Chamberlain -- was similar to the "sneak preview" show she brought to Avalon in May. At the Fleet show, however, Amos backed off emphasizing her latest album "from the choirgirl hotel" in favor of material from all four of her platinum releases. Beginning with a stunning "Precious Things," with its signature high-pitched, escalating piano trills and Amos' Robert Plant-inspired wails, Amos wisely emphasized Chamberlain's huge, tom-tom sound, his pounding emulating a panic-stricken, quickening pulse. Caton's delicious fuzz guitar was clearly separated from Amos' own warped tinklings on "Cruel." A grandiose resonance was heard in Amos' low-end left-hand work on "Caught a Lite Sneeze" and there was nary a hint of distortion on Evans' bowed bass on the richly melodic pop ballad "Jackie's Strength."
This newly minted band sound seems to rein in, or at least cover up, some of the famously melodramatic Amos moves of old: loud gasps of breath, sticky lip noises and girly vocalizing. On songs like the provocatively funky "God" and the flighty "Cornflake Girl," the flame-haired singer's soprano was clear, swooping from angelic highs to guttural lows.
The balance of the show ricocheted from slowly building ballads like the obtuse "Putting the Damage On," the ambient waltz of "Spark," the manic techno workout of "Raspberry Swirl," with Chamberlain playing what looked like an oil drum, and crowd favorite "The Waitress."
The jagged edges were brought out for encores of the pointed "She's Your Cocaine" and the tremolo-laced "iieee" and the bizarrely histrionic closer "Horses."
Amos kept her onstage patter to a minimum, stopping only to
comment on her recent marriage and to thank the crowd, who enthusiastically cheered her
Copyright 1998 - The Boston Herald
At Lunch With Tori Amos
Disclosing Intimacies, Enjoying the Shock Value
by Jon Pareles (NY Times, April 23, 1998)
photo by: Suzanne DeChillo
NEW YORK -- Tori Amos takes pains with her image. As she rehearsed for her appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" a few weeks ago, she had her keyboard and piano moved to improve the camera angle, then pondered just how high her microphone should be tilted. After she raised it and noted the exact level for the stage crew, a bystander asked whether lifting her head improved her vocals. "It's never about the music," she said with a laugh. "It's about the chin!"
Ms. Amos may be careful about her public face, but she isn't exactly inhibited. In her songs and her poses, control and abandon strike a fascinating, uneasy truce. For the cover of her album "Boys for Pele," Ms. Amos appeared mud-spattered and holding a gun and, in another photograph, nursing a piglet at her breast. The video clip for her new single, "Spark," shows her blindfolded, wrists tied behind her back, stumbling through an ominous countryside as she sings, "You say you don't want it again and again, but you don't really mean it."
On the three albums she has released since 1992, each selling at least a million copies, Ms. Amos has sung about God and about being raped, about masochism and murder, about callousness and transcendence. And in conversation over a lunch of mussels, french fries and red wine at Le Bilboquet on the Upper East Side, she was merrily unguarded about everything except the identity of her longtime boyfriend.
"The songs are really open," she said. "But there are things I'm really private about. People, I'm sure, will have a real chuckle about me saying that. Like, what is left?" Ms. Amos was in New York City for the final technical work on her new album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," due for release on May 5. She is to return for a performance Thursday night at Irving Plaza here, previewing the songs with her new band; the concert sold out almost instantly.
For lunch, she was dressed demurely, wearing a sweater over a dove-gray top and black pants. Around her neck was a small crucifix dotted with rubies, an odd accessory for a Methodist pastor's daughter who has bitterly rejected organized Christianity. "It's a rebellion against my rebellion," she said. "And it's really pretty, too. It's a great symbol, an ancient symbol. I love the blood. I love the passion."
From the beginning, Ms. Amos's songs have been wayward and volatile, full of mood swings and musical leaps. They are held together by her meticulous, classical piano technique, while her voice swoops from innocence to jaded sultriness, from bemusement to bitterness.
"I would change my clothes to be able to sing the songs on this album," she said. "Because you have to become the Sybil of songwriting.
"I've really been interested in allowing myself to be taken over by the characters in the songs," she said by way of explanation. "You have to change to allow the presence of the entities of these songs to come. For any songwriter to say they do it on their own, well, they must have a very lonely life. I have a very busy life because these girls are coming in and out all the time, since I was a little girl. I'm never really alone."
The songs are intimate, but Ms. Amos refuses to call them confessional. "I don't like that term, and I'll tell you why," she said. "When you confess, you're asking for absolution. And I'm not asking for anybody's approval."
Ms. Amos, 34, started playing the piano when she was 2 1/2
"I wanted to be a ballerina," she said. "But my thighs are as big as
rhinoceroses and I have no time in my feet. All my time is in my hands."
She was accepted at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore at age 5 and was expelled six years later for improvising too much. As a teen-ager, she sang Gershwin songs, her father's favorites, at piano bars.
She worked in Los Angeles with a rock band that had the
unfortunate name Y Kant Tori Read, which released an album in 1988 before breaking up.
After she moved to England in 1990, she began recording her own songs as she heard them:
with her piano at the center, moving from hymns to classical filigree to bluesy vamps. Her
first album, "Little Earthquakes," spoke to young women coming of age and torn
between shame and desire. In a tangle of religion and sexuality, her songs' narrators were
sometimes victimized, sometimes triumphant. "Every day I crucify myself," she
sang in the album's first song.
Loyal fans followed her increasingly free-associative songs on her next two albums, "Under the Pink" in 1994 and "Boys for Pele" in 1996. The Internet buzzes with interpretations of lines like "The weasel squeaks faster than a seven-day week"; Ms. Amos has such a widespread following in cyberspace that she is releasing one new song, "Merman," only as a computer download.
Ms. Amos said her first album was like a diary; her second, like a painting, and her third like "a woman's journey across her own River Styx." Her fourth is like a hotel; the girls staying there are songs.
"I saw the girls being like a singing group, because they're very independent, but they hang out together. They have their own solar systems, they have their own family trees, but I did see them having margaritas by the pool. Sometimes they let me sing with them."
Many of Ms. Amos's lyrics on the new album remain oblique, amid recurring images of surrender, addiction, lost babies and womanly power. One key to the songs, she said, is that she had a miscarriage near Christmas in 1996. "I didn't write the record until that happened, and it was quite a shock. The songs were a huge part of me understanding my feelings," she said. "I had never appreciated life like that before."
"The songs started to come," she said. "The music always comes in my darkest hour, and the music is always so giving. I have this picture of an endless well somewhere, I don't know where it is -- in the star systems out there. And the more that you're open to it the more that it keeps coming."
Ms. Amos made her new album in Cornwall, England, 10 miles from the ocean. The studio is a converted barn; the neighbors are a chicken farm on one side, a sheep farm on the other. "The farmers are cool," Ms. Amos said. "Their attitude is, 'If you turn it up, let's just hope we get more milk."'
In fact, she did turn up the sound. Some of her new songs surround her piano with aggressive rhythms and electronic noise. "The effects are part of the psyche of each girl," she said. "I looked at the engineers and I said, 'All those funny knobs over there, do they do stuff?' They said, 'They do more stuff than you can imagine.' So I said, 'Let's do stuff.' It's sonic geometry."
Some of the new songs muse over loss and guilt and forgiveness; others flaunt an assertive sexuality. "There's a thread of my life running through the songs, but it's a tiny little thread," she said. "The songs never let me forget that. They let me know, as if they're saying, 'We live and breathe and exist, and you just happen to see us because of something that was happening in your life at the time.' They say, 'Tori, it's not just about you.' And humbly I say, 'Oh, thank you, you who is the song."'
"You can be anybody or anything in a song," she
said. "Nobody controls what your relationship is in a song or who you are in
it. And nobody owns it. I'm a literary hooker. I will sit there and hang out with
somebody just to see, OK, is there a reflection of them in me? Or are we
adversaries? As a person, I don't like confronting people. I'll do anything to not
confront a situation. But as a writer, I'll confront Mother Teresa if the songs are taking
One song, "She's Your Cocaine," puzzles over a man's attraction to a woman who will destroy him. "I've seen myself become quite angry because somebody that I love has been dragged through the streets emotionally," Ms. Amos said. "A vicious narcissist is hard for me to take. But a yummy narcissist, are you kidding? You're talking to one."
As a photographer arrived to take Ms. Amos's picture for this story, a stylist materialized to touch up her foundation and lip liner and reshape her mane of red hair. No matter what her talk revealed, she would look impeccable.