The Unbelievable Truth
Contrary to expectation, there was not a preponderance of adolescent girls at Rhodes Arena Saturday night. The devotees who came to worship Tori Amos ranged from culturally impaired fraternity jocks to the spastic high school theater crowd. And, yes, teenage girls with their moms, both with dyed red hair.
They were in for a shock. The curtain came up for what looked like a Kiss concert: a guy screeching heavy metal guitar, geysers of blood-red smoke shooting up from the stage. Amos has said in recent interviews that she was going for a more rocked-out sound on her new CD, From the Choirgirl Hotel, and she upped it five notches this night.
Amos walked onstage to a deafening roar of adoration. "We love you, Tori!" bellowed a young man with a voice that sounded like it should be shouting "Go Browns!" In a silver sequined gown worn over jeans, she looked half Marilyn at JFK's birthday party, half farm girl.
She showed class when she graciously introduced her band--"these brothers of mine that I truly love"-early in the set. Given that she had no song list until minutes before the show, she better love them.
She was also gracious to the audience, blowing kisses and handing her water bottle to the front row. The crowd went into a frenzy with her every gesture. At times there was a sneaking suspicion that her fans ... well, might not have had the maturity to truly appreciate her music. People drowned her out with requests when she paused between songs; at one point she had to be the impatient schoolteacher, saying "This is strange, because you know I know what I'm doing."
As soon as she sat at the piano, Amos appeared possessed. Red hair flying, porcelain face shiny with sweat, she threw herself into her music. A classically trained musician, she gracefully swiveled between keyboard and piano mid-song, maintaining a rhythmic flow even through the more uptempo songs.
Amos and her band played a variety of songs ranging throughout her CD catalog, plus a gorgeous cover of "Landslide." The spectacular light show enhanced the supernatural quality of the show. Hot pink lights drowned the stage during "Hotel," while Amos created sounds with her vocal cords that were more wood instrument than human. Babs and Celine have nothing on her.
The final song, "Raspberry Swirl," was kicked up with a driving techno beat; green and blue lasers transformed the gym into a huge rave. Strangely, there wasn't much dancing on the floor--maybe the fans were all in a hypnotic trance. And just when it seemed Amos would collapse from exhaustion, she came back for two long encores.
Tony Bennett once introduced k.d. lang as an artist "on the shelf" with Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf. Tori belongs there, too. True, she inspires silliness (several girls came dressed as fairies), but she is one of the great performers and musicians of our day.
British opening band the Unbelievable Truth held the audience's enthusiasm without resorting to the proverbial "Tori Amos will be out any minute, we promise ..."
Guitarist and lead vocalist Andy Yorke has a ghostly, liquid voice similar to that of his brother, Radiohead's Thom Yorke, and it melted with the eerie keyboard pulse. Jason Moulster's heavy bass and Nigel Powel's raging drums crescendoed and decrescendoed in volume and intensity in a way similar to Radiohead, came off harder rocking and less anxious. Buy their CD while they're relative unknowns--they won't be for long.
--Sarah E. Tascone
You can judge the quality of some concerts by how long it takes a crowd surfer to accidentally kick you in the head. In the case of Saturday's sold-out Deftones show at the Agora, fifteen seconds were enough--before the band even took the stage. Do Tori Amos fans deal with this crap?
The Deftones wasted no time flooring the Agora crowd. After opening with the sensual epic sweep of "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)," they launched straight into the screaming hysteria of "My Own Summer (Shove It)," finishing it off with the lethal one-two punch of "Root" and "Nosebleed," both from their debut album. The kids went crazy. Stephen Carpenter's carpal-tunnel guitar riffs set 'em up, Chi Cheng's pounding bass lines knocked 'em down, and Abe Cunningham's relentless drumming bored 'em into the pavement. Cunningham found the emotional core lurking even in slower songs like "Mascara," and by the time the band barreled through the ballistic "7 Words," there wasn't a dry armpit in the house.
Lead singer Chino Moreno presided over this madness with adrenaline-soaked aplomb. He stalked the stage and let forth primal roars like some kind of mutated wolverine, and burst into schizophrenic pseudo-raps like that guy from Korn. He rasped and choked and coughed into the microphone like the pissed-off, testosterone-overloaded male equivalent of Paula Cole. During the excellent "Root," he even emitted a hypnotic piercing wail à la Jane's Addiction.
Moreno punctuated one song with a headfirst stage dive, surfing a wave of hands back to the stage in time to dedicate the next song to the punk who tried to steal his shoes en route. When he told fans he was electric, they believed him.
Moreno even held an impromptu clinic for aspiring lead singers. Next time you experience microphone problems in the middle of your big solo, try this: Stare down the crowd, rattle off some profanity, pivot, whip the microphone at the drum kit, direct a few hostile glares toward the roadies, grab another microphone, pivot, stare down the crowd, resume swearing.
This regimen of microphone tossin' and roadie glarin' would ordinarily indicate a self-absorbed, anti-fan sort of outfit, but the Deftones proved themselves as fan-friendly as, say, Barbra Streisand. At one point Moreno ordered the crowd members to applaud themselves for supporting the band, and shortly thereafter the band responded to a fan request with a blistering version of "Engine No. 9." Meanwhile, flyers advertising a chance to meet the band at the Euclid Tavern after the show rained down onto the sea of bodies. The Deftones clearly understand why they're playing to a sold-out crowd in the first place. If anger is a gift, then these guys gleefully share it with everyone.
Two influential NYC hardcore bands opened the show: Snapcase delivered high-energy punk from its latest release, Progression Through Unlearning, and Quicksand followed up with an equally blistering set, mixing new material with crowd favorites like "Unfulfilled" and "Thorn in My Side." Lead singer Walter Schreifels battled technical difficulties and an obviously battered voice, but hey, after twenty kicks to the head, what's a little feedback and scratchy vocals?
"The Porn Flakes may not go down in history, but they'll go down on any hot chick that ventures backstage," the emcee informed everyone. The small gathering had arrived to celebrate the national distribution of The Number of the Beef, the Toledo sextet's recent album.
At the very least, Porn Flakes demonstrated a seemingly endless supply of energy and fun-spirited attitude. Grotesque stunts and frequent bouts of musical parody put the band in position to inherit the throne of shock-rock gods Gwar. "Unkel Eddie" delved into the world of trailer parks and suspected incest. The drummer flailed, driving the funk-metal groove along. A spectacle involving a Halloween-masked, dildo-sportin' freak dressed in hillbilly gear (i.e. overalls, straw-hat, and flannel) left a lasting impression. During the Porn Flakes' anti-vegetarian anthem, "Moo Jack Rustler," a cow-suited character was taunted by a red flag, only to be assaulted with a tenderizer and turned to steak.
"Acting Like Black Sabbath" and "Rockin' for You" both paid tongue-in-cheek tributes to metal, whether in its complex stages of the early '70s or the self-parodying era of mid-'80s hair rock. Wearing spandex, bullet belts, and big wigs, Porn Flakes perfectly recreated the genre's excesses.
When not screwing around, Porn Flakes served a white-trash brew of rap/metal/funk hardcore. The triple-vocal package roared and rapped and shouted, providing the songs with interesting angles. The steady guitar thrashing and funked-up bass tapping ensured the set's liveliness. Despite a recycled sound, Porn Flakes still impressed with their enthusiasm and tight musical attack.