Review by Joe Jones – Amanda Palmer live at Union Chapel, 15/12/19

“I could have done a normal tour. I could have done six Dresden Dolls songs and sold more tickets and merch and the newspapers would have come.” 

From her perfectly-lit spot at the helm of the Union Chapel, red roses weaved into her hair, Amanda F**king Palmer is anything but normal. Neither are we. That’s why we’re all here with her in this glorious church on the dark and stormy evening we found out the dreaded election results. It’s our church tonight. And no better sermon could have been delivered.

Palmer has built her career on, with and for her community for 20 years, and it’s a no-brainer as to why she is the cult-crowned queen of anti-pop.  She has been making frenetic, unapologetic, honest artistic statements since before The Dresden Dolls, connecting with her community religiously, and talking openly in her music about some of the more treacherous paths on the human experience.

I first saw one of her tours in 2011, and have been to at least 4 since. I thought I knew what to expect, but this show was a gift unlike any other. ‘There Will Be No Intermission’ is perhaps quite simply the bravest display of exposed humanity I have ever experienced at a gig. ‘Gig’ doesn’t quite feel descriptive enough though. It was more akin to a reading from her diaries. For three hours she delicately weaved a small selection of handpicked songs with stories from her personal life into a tapestry of pain, loss and beauty. Of retribution and abortion and accidentally killing a squirrel (on route to a reformative justice retreat where she discussed it with convicted men on death row). Stories of her teenage self and her horrendously relatable bad taste in men, of the  social media backlash from a poem about the Boston bomber to posts about Taylor Swift.  Several beautiful stories of her best friend Anthony, from meeting him at 15 to his dying in her arms twenty something years later. And then the song she wrote for his memorial.

There was a safe-word kindly given. “If at any point anyone is too sad, please stand up and shout ‘Amanda I’m Too Sad’ and I’ll play you the opening chords to Coin Operated Boy as a pallette cleanser” which she obliged twice. Being the self-confessed theatre kid she is, she managed to both draw and toe the line between comedy and tragedy. Tales of anguish peppered with humour, and a well woven theme of hatred for ‘Frozen’. 

There was a lot of cry-laughing from all involved. I’m not sure I know of another musician who could (or would) be able to explain that they are about to sing a song about disparate feelings towards motherhood written from the point of view of two women (“who are actually the same woman”), a foetus and a vagina. And then stop playing for a second to mention that it’s “much funnier if you actually picture a vagina singing”.

Feminism was a theme well explored; not as a ‘ram it down your throat’ ideal, but more in the ‘the radical notion that women are people too’ way. Palmer spoke at length of womb related issues, of being in Ireland on the day of the abortion referendum, the stark contrast between two New York abortion clinics, and how people with wombs don’t talk about a lot of very important things (note: ‘people with wombs’, not ‘women’ – an artist who is both fiercely feminist and trans inclusive without having to perform wearing a flag) and then talking about those things openly, in songs including the wonderful ‘A Mother’s Confession’ written 4 months into motherhood, with a chorus the entire audience sang with her of “At least the baby didn’t die”. Another notable moment was a deeply harrowing story of a yuletide miscarriage alone in a snowstorm before giving the most heartfelt rendition of ‘Let it go’ (from her much hated Frozen) any of us had ever heard. Her congregation wept and laughed as she played.

The other main moral to her fables was compassion.  She wrote the earworm-worthy ‘Drowning in the Sound’ after reaching out to her patrons (Palmer has been patron funded since her now famous split with her record label in 2010), asking about the afflictions in their lives, and being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of hurt.

Through stories and songs about her compassionate yet gun loving late best friend (listen to ‘Machete’) Amanda Palmer explained why believes so deeply in radical compassion, fierce communal kindness towards absolutely everybody. From the squirrel she accidentally killed, to the convicted murderers she told about it. From parents and children to “yes, even him” … Boris Johnson. And she is right. We are all ‘bigger on the inside’ and perhaps the most important thing we can do in such fractured, terrifying political times, is to commit ourselves to compassion, honesty, art and community spirit. To galvanize our resolve, dig our heels deep and sometimes, come together on dark nights in a well lit church to laugh and cry and sing.

“We are so much bigger on the inside
You, me, everybody
Some day when you’re lying where I am
You’ll finally get it, beauty
We are so much bigger
Than another one can ever see
Trying is the point of life
So don’t stop trying”

– Bigger On The Inside. Amanda Palmer