By John S.W. MacDonald on December 9, 2009 11:49 AM
It was a sight to behold. Just a couple months ago, Tori Amos could be found playing packed houses at Radio City Music Hall, and wowing audiences in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Rome. And yet here she was in front of a piano at SPIN's offices in Lower Manhattan playing to no more than 100 people, her legs, as always, straddling the piano bench -- a cowgirl in high heels.
Fresh off her multi-continent, five-month Sinful Attraction Tour (Amos, like Madonna, is one of just a few artists who's allowed to name her own tours), her gig last night at SPIN's Newcastle-sponsored SPINhouse Live series was, to say the least, a change of pace. But then again so is Tori's latest record.
Released last month, Midwinter Graces is being described is Tori's first "seasonal" album, which, in Amos' agile hands, means part Christmas homily, part pagan ritual. Along with her take on traditional holiday fare ("What Child, Nowell," "Emmanuel") are tunes about glitter and snow angels.
Amos, in other words, is still very much her wild, willful self, Christmas album or no. And she reminded everyone attending her performance last night just how powerful that can be. With her perm-straight orange hair, six-inch heels, and electric red dress falling elegantly off her shoulder, Amos was the brightest light in the room. Only her music shone brighter.
"Wednesday," pulled from her 2002 album Scarlet's Walk, had a jaunty melancholy reminiscent of early Beatles. On "Silent Night With You," one of the evening's four Midwinter tunes, Amos's supple voice transformed an ancient hymn into a radio-ready love song. And with her nimble fingers, Amos gave "Star of Wonder" a stately, swooning grace -- a far cry from the Middle Eastern flare of the song's Midwinter version.
All of which is to say that while Amos may make her living playing 3,500 seat theaters, her music is made for intimate "venues" like SPIN's. It's here that her famously animated performances can really make a difference. Every time she stomped her heel or swung her head back last night -- which was often -- Amos' hair got stuck in her metallic lip-gloss. Her movements were violent and precise. She rode that piano as much as she played it.
While Tori only delivered six songs during her short set, she did manage to leave her audience with a holiday message all her own. On Midwinter's "Pink and Glitter" -- a big band vamp she wrote to "celebrate the birth of little girls" while everyone else celebrates the birth of a little boy -- she sang, or rather cooed: "Shower the world with pink, if you please!" Christmas would look plenty different if Amos were in charge -- and that wouldn't be a bad thing.
Tori Amos' SPINhouse Live Setlist:
"Silent Night With You"
"Star of Wonder"
"Pink and Glitter"