For anyone who has known Amanda Palmer‘s work for longer than the last 5 minutes of fame, it would be almost impossible to disagree with the opinion that she has evolved. Where the line could be drawn is in deciding whether that evolution has been an altogether positive thing.
As a reformed die-hard fan of hers, I acknowledge it can be challenging and sometimes disappointing when an artist you have worshipped evolves into something new. Usually, that evolution results in a music style that doesn’t quite hit the mark for said fan. That’s fine – we all change. But in a worst-case scenario, this evolution can result in a newfound perspective on the integrity of the artist.
Chances are if you’ve heard of Amanda Palmer, you probably know her Dresden Dolls’ crowdpleaser ‘Coin-Operated Boy’ and her ukulele rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. And if those surface skimming classics are enough to keep you happy, Friday night’s show at the NGV would have been a very satisfying experience for you.
From atop a balcony to the side of the main stage, she fulfilled the prerequisite for an Amanda Palmer-style grand entrance and opened the show with her bittersweet ukulele tune ‘In My Mind’. Utilising the classic performer/public speaker technique of delivering your message quietly to ensure a crowd is obediently silent and enraptured, she moved on to what has become her mainstay “weirdo pride” tune, ‘Creep’. Aside from the fact that I’ve never been a fan of this song (original or cover), I have also seen her perform it at almost every single gig – a tally somewhere in the 20’s. Usually, I can lump it, but given the iron-clad, hour-long time restrictions of an NGV gig, this was a disappointing choice and potentially lazy use of a precious slot in the set list.
Next up, we had the contemporary ukulele classic ‘Gaga, Palmer, Madonna’, followed by pubic hair pride anthem ‘Map of Tasmania’ – complete with problematic, anti-feminist sentiments. Finally, she sat down at the piano for one of her more commercial pop hits ‘The Killing Type’, from the album ‘Theatre is Evil’.
If you’re thinking to yourself “why do I know that album title?”, it’s possible you’re familiar with it because of a controversial Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. A super nutshell version of this brouhaha is that the album was created independently via the aforementioned crowd funding platform, which sought $100,000 as it’s goal. By the end of the campaign, she had received pledges totally $1.2 million (by far the largest Kickstarter music campaign in history TO DATE) and proceeded to tour the album across the globe, all while requesting free horn and string sections in each location. When the community questioned these actions, Palmer was quick to defend herself, stating that people who wanted to play with her were receiving exposure and were happy to be recipients of the ultimate gift – time on stage with her. OK, I’m paraphrasing – but the sentiment is 100% accurate.
But I digress.
Next up was her only other Dresden Doll’s song of the evening, ‘Missed Me’, from the 2003 self-titled album. This was followed by a rather sentimental pairing of ‘A Mother’s Confession’ and ‘The Bed Song’. Both are truly touching pieces, the latter especially, and an exercise in songwriting that I wish she still exhibited on the regular.
Nearing the end of the show, we were treated to a rhythmically re-imagined version of the quirky and comical ‘The Vegemite Song’. By this point, the crowd was existing on a somewhat frantic wave of cult-level fandom, so cue the laughter even before the actual punchlines were delivered.
The penultimate track was the aforementioned ‘Coin-Operated Boy’, and if you could catch an actual glimpse of the woman amidst a recording-breaking sea of phones attempting to snatch whatever footage they could of this tried and tested crowd-pleaser, you were doing well.
Lastly, Palmer headed back to the four-stringed wand of thunder for the actual ukulele anthem, titled, would you believe, ‘Ukulele Anthem’. This is a fun little ditty with a handful of chords, and an outro that was also crowdsourced… Palmer asked her fans to tweet her things they were not allowed to take to work, and the list includes everything from a sousaphone to “your new Rebecca Black CD”. Retro, huh?
At the time of writing, Amanda Palmer has been in town for a couple of months, playing regular gigs at venues like The Gasometer. According to sources (ie. my friends who still love her), she had expressed some potentially negative feelings about doing a show at the NGV and (presumably) the particular type of bourgeois populace that would be likely to attend such an event. I guess just saying you feel strange about it is enough to maintain the status quo, even as you cash the weighty cheque that surely comes with a gig of that calibre.
I suppose her weird feelings about the venue could also account for the fact that she totally ignored the throngs of ukulele-playing fans who were crowded at the front door of the NGV post-gig as she literally ran to bypass them and hail a taxi. Fans’ exclamations of “thank you, Amanda!”, and “I love you, Amanda!” fell on deaf ears – a scene I cannot imagine being the case five years ago or more.
I think it’s wonderful (and am a tad envious) that so many people still get such an intense level of satisfaction and inspiration from the work of Ms Palmer. Those who had never before seen her play would probably also find her to be an engaging performer, and the experience altogether quite refreshing. But for an old school fan who has come to expect a certain level of emotional commitment, (and has the ability to dissect and think critically about the messages I am consuming), all I can say is that I miss the mid-late 2000’s of Amanda Palmer music, craftsmanship, and genuine connection. Or maybe I miss my own naivety? Either way, I’m definitely no longer the girl anachronism.