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New Haven Advocate (US)
News & Arts Weekly
August 11, 2005

Aimless Amos

The glories of Tori: A defiant wispy innocence

By Christopher Amott

     Nice to know that some things never change. Like Tori Amos' ditziness. The frilly, witchy piano pixie who wended her way into '90s grunge consciousness with a canny torch-song cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and several albums of sparse, winsome pre-Lilith Fair empowered girl pop may seem passé now. But she's as wispy and blissfully unaware as ever. Who cares if you've lost cultural catchet if you're living on another planet?

     In a phone interview last month from Florida, where she was preparing for the tour which stops Aug. 16 at Wallingford's Chevrolet Theater, Amos says she's comfortable in the Sunshine State because "I'm a lady lizard and I love the heat."

     Her latest album, The Beekeeper, came about because "I decided I needed to go talk to God's mother, Sophia." The CD, released in February, has 19 songs (with titles like "Martha's Foolish Ginger," "The Power of Orange Knickers" and "Original Sinsuality") grouped in suitelike subsets labeled "gardens," such as "The Orchard," "The Greenhouse" and "Elixirs and Herbs." She explains: "I figured that a woman was blamed for getting us chucked out of a biblical garden, the Garden of Eden. So I thought I'd create a garden we couldn't get chucked out of. It's essential to plant the seed, the idea of an ideology where a woman could plant the forbidden fruit." The songs are set in a variety of voices, but Amos bypasses the characterization of herself as a playwright or even a songwriter, saying that "there's a cast of ladies which come and visit me."

     Lest you think she exists on another spiritual plane entirely, Amos insists that her work is politicized and speaks to everyday concerns. "All is not quiet on the Western front -- and from London to New York, the front is everywhere. Touring keeps your ear to the ground, keeps you responding to the changes happening in the world."

     For her latest tour, Amos is once again a solo act, after previous excursions with a backing band. Perhaps aware of her own fading relevance, she's enlisted two hot young all-female indie bands to open for her: the Like, an L.A.-based rock trio whose members are barely out of their teens, and the cabaret-style pop duo the Ditty Bops. As for Amos' set, she says she doesn't finalize it until an hour before she goes onstage, then changes her mind if she feels like it. This may frustrate the sound and lighting designers but guarantees a certain freshness. Her shows still include the popular "Piano Bar" segment, where audience members can shout out requests -- epecially for songs not in the usual Amos repertoire.

     While Amos cut her teeth as a teen pianist playing Cole Porter and Gershwin standards, working weddings and lounges, she says most of the shout-outs she gets are for her renditions of current pop hits.

     "What I enjoy is improv, how the songs are cast, in terms of their order. What's happening in the world that day determines what I play that night." Of course she has a romantic term for this: "Shape-shifting." And a timeless persona: "I'm like a storyteller, sitting on my little porch in Cornwall, with a foot in America and a foot in England. I have to, as a songwriter."

[transcribed by jason/yessaid]


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