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Salt Lake Metro (US)
Salt Lake City, Utah
Tori's Sacred Journey
by Eric J. Tierney
The first thing concertgoers encounters when they take their seat for a Tori Amos show is the Bosendorfer. The stately nine-foot concert grand piano -- handmade with wood from the maker's own forest -- dominates the stage, primed and waiting for the moment when its mistress will appear and make it sing.
For Amos and her legions of devoted fans, the instrument is much more than a piano. For one thing, it's been the artist's most trusted friend and musical collaborator for more than ten years, appearing on each of Amos' albums since Under the Pink in 1994. For another, it has been around the world almost ten times, playing to hundreds of thousands of rapt listeners. Waiting for the show to begin, the audience can't help but feel the energy stored in its strings and pedals from the untold thousands of times Amos has played it, storing up all the wisdom, passion, anguish and joy that have been poured into it all these years.
Of course, for a Tori fan, those moments spent looking at the piano before she arrives on stage are charged with a special sort of anticipation; they know that while the Bose has seen the world, while it was in another city last night and will be in still another tomorrow, any minute now Tori Amos is going to come on stage and, for two hours, play it just for them. And they know they're in for quite a ride.
Amos has been acclaimed as one of the best live acts in music today, and in the thirteen years that have elapsed since she released Little Earthquakes, the album which transformed the former-child-prodigy-turned-lounge-singer-turned-heavy-metal-rocker into an internationally-renowned artist. She has amassed a following of devotees who display the kind of almost religious fervor usually associated with bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. It is not uncommon to come across "Toriphiles" who've been to over a hundred shows -- quite an accomplishment considering that she usually tours only every other year.
Eight albums after Earthquakes, Amos and her listeners show no sign of slowing down -- she's currently on the last leg of a world tour in support of her latest effort, The Beekeeper. Speaking from the bus on her way to a show in Saratoga Springs, NY, Amos talked about the journey she's been on all that time, and what the girl who started on it would think of the music she's making now.
"I think she'd be glad to know that all the work she was doing would pay off," she says. "When I was writing [the early] works, I was desperately trying to feel them inside of myself, but they were very much outside of myself. I could only be in contact with those energies while I was performing. When I would walk offstage on the Under the Pink tour, I felt completely detached ... I had to work very hard on my person, because the performer was far more advanced than the human. So I needed to invite the songs to live inside my being instead of just onstage and on disc. And the woman I am today now walks with all the songs. And I think that's what that girl -- that woman -- would want me to have accomplished, because she was desperate. She was dying."
The woman of today is thriving. While best known for the intensely personal nature of her writing -- over the years she has fearlessly and powerfully sung about the most painful moments in her life, from the ending of a seven-year relationship to rape to miscarriage -- Amos' new work has moved beyond the subjective and personal to delve into universal themes.
Indeed, she now takes care to ensure the music doesn't become too much about her: "My experience of the song will be woven into the interpretation that the listener will hear," she explains, "but I have to be dead certain I am not taking it in a direction that could be misperceived because I get caught up in the translation."
This freedom from putting herself under the knife has allowed her to dissect the world around her, and The Beekeeper is the most sophisticated album yet, reflecting new insight into traditional Amos themes like the manifestation of power in all its forms: personal, political, sexual and beyond. A voracious reader and student of the world's philosophies and religious traditions, she is fascinated by the constant manifestation of classical archetypes in the world, and wrote the new songs from archetypal points of view like Athena and the Magdalene.
Amos sees these archetypes in everything. "Mother Revolution," one of the key tracks on the new album, was initially inspired by the state of the world's political situation, especially the war in Iraq. During the writing, however, Tori realized the song was bigger than just the current state of affairs and her political views.
"This is about a consciousness. It's the mothers refusing to get drawn into the guilt -- from the time of Troy and the ancients to our current circumstances -- of not wanting their son or daughter's blood spilled for an agenda," she said.
The powerful, eloquent song that resulted is the hallmark of the newer, wiser, more evolved Tori Amos; if she felt lost before, she's definitely found herself now.
After leaving the Peabody Conservatory of Music at eleven, Tori started playing her first professional gigs in Georgetown gay bars. A now-infamous story tells of cocktail servers teaching the thirteen-year-old girl still known as Myra Ellen Amos to perform fellatio using a cucumber.
Today, gays and lesbians are amongst Tori's most ardent fans. Younger listeners, especially, find in Tori a kind of ally who is as vulnerable as they are. There is also the fact that Amos's intense Christian background -- she is the daughter of a Methodist minister -- means she can definitely relate to sexual shame. Gay men and women also talk about how, as a marginalized and oppressed people, they are inspired by Tori's resolute determination, at all costs, to be herself.
Spirituality is essential to Amos' worldview, and in a 1999 live chat session on gay.com, she commented that gays are not permitted to see themselves as spiritual beings, but must live under society's reductive definition of them as leading purely sexual lives.
Picking up the theme, she says "I think there is a need in the gay community to balance sexuality and spirituality. People project 'a sexual lifestyle and that's all' onto the idea of gay instead of the artistic and spiritual. And that's something I've found that the community is demanding be integrated and recognized by the mass consciousness ... it's really important to add the idea of spirituality and sacredness into a gay relationship."
The September 6 concert at West Valley's Usana Amphitheatre will mark Amos' eighth stop in Utah. Diehards will remember early shows at the Murray Park Amphitheatre and Cottonwood High School. She likens traveling to the city to approaching Mecca.
"I see it as an oasis in the desert, surrounded by the mountains ... I find it very comforting because of the land itself," she said. "I relate to the land, but not necessarily to the culture that has taken it over in such a short time. I relate to the beauty ... I've always been sort of a desert creature myself."
Although the first leg of the tour was solo, Amos will hit Salt Lake with her longtime collaborators, bassist Jon Evans and percussionist Matt Chamberlain. This time around, she's added a unique element to the show: each night she plays two covers from a list of requests submitted at toriamos.com, and as a result has found herself playing everything from Cat Stevens to Aersosmith. Audiences have responded to the tour with their typical adoration. Amos is at her best live and her skill as a performer is practically unmatched -- there aren't many musicians who can entrance 15,000 people into silence. Tori Amos does it consistently.
Next week she'll do it once again in Salt Lake. With her, of course, will be the Bose.
"There's a trust factor [with the piano]. We share an understanding. I feel that I can come to her and if I don't get it right, she forgives me and she guides me. That doesn't mean I can't play other pianos -- if for some reason I was taken to Mars, I could still play piano there. But the Bose ... we talk without speaking, and then we make music."
As she says goodbye, Amos remarks on the journey through the beautiful upstate New York forest we've just taken together. She and her audience have been traveling together for some time now, and it's clear that for both it's the journey, and not the destination, that matters.
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