Review: Amanda Palmer and staying sane in insane times

…So this week has been one hell of a year, hasn’t it? There’s a growing sense of madness and uncertainty and are-we-all-living-in-a-Mad-Max-prequel vibe. The perpetual hysteria of the internet doesn’t help, and honestly, often feels like it’s making it all worse. Who knows what’s going to happen next?

So after an endless cascade of bad news, yesterday seemed like a good night for a four-hour intensely emotional concert with hundreds of other people.

I went to the fourth-from-last show of Amanda Palmer’s epic “There Will Be No Intermission” world tour last night, despite the voices in my head saying that a sold-out show was kind of a scary place to be after a day full of headlines about mass contagion. 

But in the end, I went, because over and over again in my life when things have gone to shit, art is what lifts me out of the ditch. 

I know Amanda Palmer is an acquired taste for some folks. She’s intense, oversharing and excessive; she’s made some controversial statements. She’s also quite funny, captivating and honest to her core, I think. I like her because she’s brave, the reincarnation of every dazzling theatre girl I ever dug. You can call her “punk cabaret,” “folk-rant,” whatever you like. 

For “There Will Be No Intermission,” she’s crafted a hardcore show – yes, four hours! – that combines lengthy “stand-up tragedy” monologues about love, “radical compassion”, life and death with piano-pounding selections from her career. She cites the touchstones of Nick Cave, Nanette Gadsby, and others, but Palmer makes the night uniquely her own style. 

It’s intense stuff – Palmer talks candidly about her sexual life and in particular her three abortions in riveting detail. It’s the kind of frankness you rarely see in a public figure and while it’s sometimes unforgettably hard to listen to, Amanda also pulls out as much black humour as she can. I mean, this is a woman who wrote a song called “A Mother’s Confession” that features a chorus of “but at least the baby didn’t die.” An expert storyteller, she knows exactly how far to take the audience before dispelling tension with a bit of wit. 

An artist’s job, she said, “is to go into the dark, and make light.” 

It all wrapped up in an explosively cathartic, hilarious yet heartfelt rendition of “Let It Go” from Frozen, disco ball glittering light shadows through the audience, and we finished the night wrung-out and worn out, but you know, it felt good. Palmer got two standing ovations, and while the dramas and fears of the world outside never entirely left the room, for a few hours, they receded a bit. 

One of the appeals of Palmer’s music and ethos is that intense sense of community, and right now when the very idea of community is kind of freaking everybody out, it’s good to know there are other people like you out there, even if you’re just seeing them from afar in your own form of self-isolation. 

I don’t know what the hell is going to happen next. But I’ll try to make light, because it beats the alternative. 

And it’s just a ride / It’s just a ride

And you’ve got the choice to get off anytime that you like

It’s just a ride

It’s just a ride

The alternative’s nothingness / Might as well give it a try

(-“The Ride” by Amanda Palmer) 

Author: nik dirga

I'm an American journalist who has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade now.

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