How many rock stars can you say you know? How many rock stars do you think really tell you the truth? I can think of one: Amanda Palmer. Now I am not claiming that me and Ms Palmer hang out at the pub, nor that I have read her diary – but when I listen to her albums, or hear her tell her anecdotes on stage, or see her preform a “ninja gig” in a park, it is easy to feel like we are old acquaintances. Amanda Palmer doesn’t hold back, she bares it all for her fans, and it is her authenticity as a person and a musician that brings me back to see her perform again and again.
The first support act of the night is Die Roten Punkte. The duo hail from Australia, via a version of Berlin which was lifted from Isherwood, and a little from Billy Wilder’s 60’s comedy One, Two, Three. Their act is hilarious and the ‘brother and sister’ duo are instantly endearing with their energetic on-stage antics. The pair, who go by the nom de plume’s of Otto and Astrid, threw out some mighty fine rock moves and funny little songs about bananas finding a home, and dinosaurs looking for love. Palmer and guitarist Chad Raines also joined the duo on stage to provide some backup dance action during the song entitled, “I am not a Robot (I Am a Lion)”.
We were also entertained by a string quartet lead by Grand Theft Orchestra’s bassist, composer Jherek Bischoff. The smartly tuxedoed Bischoff switches between bass, guitar and ukulele, whilst conducting the strings to perform some of his original music. He told us how he had only met the strings musicians that day. Bischoff had only recently been in town performing as part of the Adelaide Festival. He played for us a piece which was a collaboration with David Byrne, a surefire way straight to my heart. There is no doubt the dapper Bischoff is immensely accomplished, and I hope he returns to Adelaide again for the festival or otherwise.
When she emerged once again onto the stage, Amanda Palmer was greeted eagerly by her fans. She was dressed, as she often is, in a corset and bra. Her Victorian aesthetic coupled with shiny black tights and combat boots balancing perfectly her femininity with her strength in a perfectly glam-rock way.
The trio that make up The Grand Theft Orchestra are about as incoherent in wardrobe as you could get. Guitarist Chad Raines is comfortably dressed in star-spangled t-shirt and jeans, whilst Bischoff is still dashing in his tux. Drummer Thor Harris is dressed in… not much, but he has a lot of hair to make up for it. The band are fantastically talented and provide an epic, rock backdrop for Palmer that has been absent from every other tour I have seen, in her various incantations.
The set list was a mix of songs picked from Palmer’s back catalogue as well as the latest album, including “Do It With A Rockstar”, “The Killing Type”, “Bottomfeeder” and “Want it Back.” All of which had me entranced, despite only hearing some of them for the first time. Performing live, it is the sore-throat impassioned tone of her voice, and her vigor on the keyboard that really emphasizes that these songs are about real people, real experiences.
In the mix was also the best (and possibly only) song about female pubic-hair maintenance, “Map of Tasmania.” Earlier solo songs included “Astronaut (A Brief History of Nearly Nothing)”, and a boisterous rendition of “Leeds United”. Palmer’s number “Gaga, Palmer, Madonna”, a song about the trials of being a woman and being an artist, was tonight dedicated to Miley Cyrus.
Not only were we also treated to some Dresden Dolls favorites such as “Missed Me” and “Girl Anachronism”, but the band also broke out a hand-full of amazing covers including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.”
Raines and Bischoff have great chemistry, smiling and joking together at the rear of the stage throughout the set. Despite being slight of frame, I wouldn’t mess with Raines as I am sure he could hold his own in a fight. He demonstrated this when he protectively head-butted, goat-style, an unwelcome drunken stage-invader. Harris does a stellar job of things on the drums, even despite forgetting to wear any pants.
Palmer herself was constantly in the crowd, surfing and plunging out of sight. Like her connection with her fans via social media, and her crowd-funding, Palmer is not the type of artist to build a wall between her fans and herself. Mid-set, Palmer had an on-stage costume change, pulling on an incredible jacket for her next number, which saw her dive into the crowd. As Palmer was carried out on the sea of hands, her jacket left behind a sheer shroud which spread to cover her fans. It is not a complicated metaphor, but is not wasted on her fans: we are all in this together.
I have been to a lot of gigs in my life, but few of them equal the energy, madness and love that exploded on to the stage at Thebarton Theatre. Here is an artist who wants to make us feel. This was the last gig of the tour and it got messy in such a fantastic way; fans on the stage, Palmer in the crowd, and a huge sing and dance along to a cover of Pulp’s “Common People”.