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New Jersey Star Ledger (US)
November 20, 1998

THE NEVER-ENDING TORI: TOUR SHARPENS AMOS' SONGWRITING SKILLS

by Jay Lustig

The current holiday season has barely begun, and Tori Amos is already talking about the next one. Specifically, the boxed set she wants to release at that time.

The singer-songwriter-keyboardist, who performs at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark Wednesday, is recording all the shows in her current eight-month tour. She intends to put together a multi-CD package, combining live tracks with B-sides, in time for end-of-millenium gift-giving.

"I've got to go through 150 shows," she says, "and find 18 tracks."

The project's timing is perfect, since the tour -- which has already swung by once, coming to Madison Square Garden in July, practically demands to be documented. For the first time since she began touring in 1992 Amos has brought a band on the road, and the results have been revelatory.

She needs the band to perform songs from her latest album, the rocking "from the choirgirl hotel," but at the Garden, she transformed her older material too. Showing a new interest in rhythm, she gave "Precious Things" a tough Bo Diddley beat, and made "God" irresistibly funky.

The shows have followed a similar format, opening with "Precious Things" and closing with "The Waitress," and including a solo segment at some point. The set lists change from night to night, though.

"I have no idea until I walk into the venue what the show is going to be," she says. "You get a sense, when you meet the audience, of where people are going."

There is always room in the show for some improvised passages featuring her bandmates: guitarist Steve Caton, bassist Jon Evans, and drummer Matt Chamberlain. More jamming takes place at the band's afternoon soundchecks. Amos says she will include one or two of these pieces on the boxed set.

"It's hard to know where (the jams) are going, but they're going somewhere, and they came from us as a unit," Amos says. "That means something has happened over the last eight months."

These new songs are different -- "in an extreme way" -- from what Amos might produce by writing alone, she says. "The structure doesn't come from my sensibility. It comes from a whole riff/rhythm/dance sensibility, as opposed to a melodic or a lyric sensibility."

Amos' poetic, stream-of-consciousness lyrics have always been a critical part of her appeal, though they're not always easy to decipher. Take a line like "The Lord of the Flies was diagnosed as sound" from the "choirgirl hotel" track "Pandora's Aquarium."

"I use a lot of symbology," she says, "so if you dive into the symbol world, you'll have a better idea of what's going on. You have to go into the myth of Persephone to really understand what I'm talking about: You have to know that the Lord of the Flies is another word for Hades, and that Hades captured Persephone. It's the rape of Persephone; that is her myth. And she became queen of the underworld and couldn't leave for half the year.

"But did she choose to stay by eating the pomegranate seed? Did she know the rules or did he trick her?"

I'm not sure. And I still don't understand the line. Amos concedes it's possible to "put yourself into a pretzel position" trying to make literal sense of her songs. But that doesn't mean they're casually constructed, she says.

"I spend a lot of time on the songs, and I'm quite vicious with the editing process. Sometimes I don't rewrite because, you know, it's finished. You look back and go, 'It's very clear that she is finished and she doesn't want me to mess with her.'"

Amos doesn't just see songs as people, but communicates with them too. Sometimes she knows she's finished writing, she says, because "you get a boundary from a song. I wonder if some of them are from the West Coast, saying, 'I'm drawing my boundary with you, Tori.'"


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