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The Plain Dealer (US)
Cleveland, Ohio, newspaper
Tuesday, June 4, 1996

Amos Adds Harpsichord to Her Skills

Tori Amos, who has been used to mesmerizing audiences with her voice and her writhing style of playing a grand piano, has brought something new to her tour.

A harpsichord.

"It's challenging to me to play it," Amos says over the phone from Albany, N.Y. [She will be performing two sold-out shows in Cleveland tonight -- at 7 and 10 at the Music Hall.]

And its presence on stage -- so close to the deep black Bosendorfer grand piano that "the keys almost touch" -- has brought something different to a Tori Amos show. "You know when a woman has a life change and puts on a new dress? That's what happened," she says.

Amos, 32, was a child prodigy on the piano while growing up as a Methodist preacher's daughter in North Carolina. She played at 2, composed musical scores at 4 and was enrolled in Baltimore's prestigious Peabody Conservatory at 5.

Yet her harpsichord-playing is something that is only as old as her work on her latest album, "Boys for Pele," which made its debut at No. 2 on the charts in February.

"It's really different to play, actually," Amos says. "You have to approach it differently. You can't really cheat on the harpsichord. On the piano, you can be an okay player and get by. On a harpsichord, you can't get by. There's no sustain, so you can't hold the notes. You need more power to play the piano, but the harpsichord is about precision. So you make smaller movements."

Some of the pieces on "Boys for Pele," such as "Professional Widow," have a "thrash harpsichord" approach that Amos claims she "wouldn't have written on the piano."

Having the instrument on stage has given her the possibilities to change other songs.

"Bells for Her," from her 1994 album, "Under the Pink," for example, has moved to the harpsichord, Amos says. And 'In the Springtime of His Voodoo,' which begins on piano and shifts to harpsichord on the album, is presented entirely on harpsichord on the tour. "Things are shifting a lot live," Amos says. "And that's exciting for me."

Her experience at touring -- and her growing amount of material from three albums -- provides newfound opportunities on stage.

"I think because this is the third world tour, and I've played the other songs so many times, there's a lot more freedom to this musically. And I don't talk as much -- I play more."

Amos says she never enjoyed speaking to audiences between songs. "I just forced myself to do it. I'm more comfortable playing. That's where I express myself better."

Sometimes her speech -- and increasingly dense lyrics -- have been open to misinterpretation. She is considered by some the epitome of the "Cornflake Girl" of whom she sang on her last album, who babbles in a kind of New Age Tori-speak.

Yet, Amos on stage -- and this afternoon -- seems perfectly rational.

"Verbally, it's tricky," she says. "If you and I are having a conversation, and you hear me say something in a certain way, and you put it on the page that way, it's going to have one interpretation.

"Even if you have a tape recorder, the tone and the lilt of the voice can change what a phrase means. If that's not translated, it reads completely differently than if you were listening to what I was saying. Conversations are really tricky because you're reading it from someone else's point of view."

Amos has been known to cancel a slew of interviews at the last minute for just that reason.

"But if you're clicking with someone, and, for example, you use the word 'mythology,' and it means the same thing for both of you, it's different than if you're having a conversation with someone who thinks mythology is invalid. In those conversations, a lot of times what you say gets colored through that. Or sometimes I'm joking around, and people don't get it. Sometimes you can miss a whole conversation."

Yet, through her emotional playing and breathy voice, listeners often instinctively pick up on what she's saying, even if they don't have the background to pick up on the mythic references she uses.

"That's what I've always believed," Amos says. "A song is only part lyrics and, for me anyway, more than 50 percent music, easy. There's so much subtext in the music that's part of the story."

And once it's heard, she goes on, "once you see it and feel it, and you're sitting in a room with the songs, no matter what sex you are, the songs expand. And you can't get away from them unless you leave the theater. So I believe you stop analyzing them and you start feeling them.

"It's more like a painting -- if you start picking a painting apart intellectually, you can't come from an emotional place that created the painting. 'Boys for Pele' is such a metaphorical work. So you either take that journey, or you don't."

And because it is a journey, the order in which the songs appear on the album is very important, she says. Not that she's playing the songs in order on stage.

"The show changes every night because I'm including songs from the other albums, so it's a different journey than 'Boys for Pele,'" she says. "But you're still getting the fire energy; you're still taking the fire walk.

"The live performance for me right now is about being present. So this album for me is my tool box."

And in the tool box, where she finds a harpsichord in addition to a piano, Amos says, "I'm finding hidden expressions and bringing them out in the open."

Tori Amos performs two sold-out shows 7 and 10 tonight at the Music Hall, Cleveland Convention Center, 500 Lakeside Ave., Cleveland.

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