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The Times (US)
Friday, July 5, 1996
Enigmatic Amos finds audience
Singer and pianist explains performance style, impetus for Boys for Pele album
by Angie Chuang
She's been called everything from a goddess to a fruitcake. People magazine named her one of the year's 50 most beautiful people, while many music critics proclaimed she had gone off the deep end with her elusive latest album, Boys for Pele.
In a time when the music world seems to have a prepackaged label for everyone, 32-year-old vocalist-pianist Tori Amos has remained an enigma.
Her secret? Amos doesn't read a word that's written about her, and she avoids analyzing her own image at all costs.
"I'm not going to consciously play the ingenue. So much has been done before, that if you start thinking that way, about wanting to do something original, what are you going to do? Wear a black bra?" she says in a phone interview from a tour stop.
A pause in the conversation suggests a sarcastic gesture or expression, perhaps the raised eyebrow that must accompany her thoughtful query of "Do you know what I mean?" after her most oblique proclamations.
"I like being near water. Do you know what I mean?" she says, after mentioning that she is in San Diego. Her tone is every-so-slightly unsettling, reminiscent of a new age psychic chaneling energy from the sea.
Nevertheless, Amos has an inexplicable charisma and a soothing, velvety voice that make you feel like, on some subconscious level, you know exactly what she means.
It's this gift that makes her one of rock's most captivating live performers. While other acts draw audiences with sonic pyrotechnics and walls of amplifiers, soloist Amos sells out multiple shows with only her ethereal soprano and deft piano-playing.
Though she was a child prodigy in classical piano, her current performance style would have Beethoven rolling over in his grave. Amos sits astride her piano bench, sensually writhing and grinding as she plays.
Her initial one-show engagement at Oakland's Paramount Theatre was in such demand that promoters added a second date, and then a third later that same night.
"When I perform live, I think about what some of my physicist friends say about energy, about how energy never dies, it is always reforming itself. That's what the audience is like. I don't see them, because it's dark, but I can sense pockets of energy and I go after them," she says, explaining how and why she makes eye contact during shows.
"I can smell thoughts, sense points of tension, and when I do, I say, 'Let's go there.' It's no different than a wolverine who senses fire in a forest. (Thoughtful pause.) Do you know what I mean?"
Boys for Pele marked an important emotional milestone for Amos. The songs were written after, and in response to, her breakup with Eric Rosse, her producer and boyfriend of six years.
Amos offers her feelings about the experience, almost eager to explain its impact on the album.
"Boys for Pele was written out of the ending of a relationship with a soulmate. It was not just, 'He's a loser, so who cares?' He's wonderful, but we just needed to experience life without being together. It's a strange one when you don't stop loving. It's a whole different feeling than when you fall out of love."
Since her two previous albums, Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink were both written with Rosse in her personal and professional life, Boys for Pele was a particularly difficult process of reclaiming independence and individuality, Amos says.
"I was alone and half of me is missing. Where is this half of me? I had to fill this up with something -- and not another man. So I had to find out what. I hadn't explored the Lady Macbeth in my being. You know, the one who wants to be king, bay-beee."
Another moment of silence on the line, perhaps for an impish grin. "There was a part of me that needed to feed off boy blood, that needed to be needed," she adds.
It's Amos' Lady Macbeth side that inspired the bizarrely sexual vampire imagery in "Blood Roses":
"You gave him your blood / And your warm little diamond / He likes killing you after you're dead," she croons in the maddeningly unstructured composition, rendered with the Gothic sounds of harpsichord and harmonium.
The album perplexed many critics with its indecipherable lyrics and fluid, ever-changing arrangements that suggest, as Amos describes, "mental, emotional and even spiritual journeys" beyond rational understanding.
But Amos doesn't dwell on who gets it and who doesn't.
"If I start bouncing off of everyone, I get in trouble. It's a very big planet and that's 5 billion people I have to account for," she says.
"Everyone is an individual. When you realize that, a light bulb comes on and it's a fact that you will be unique if you follow that instinct. But people don't really develop what makes them special -- do you know what I mean?"
Who: Tori Amos
When and where: 8 p.m. Thursday and 7 p.m., and 10:30 p.m. July 12, Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland; 7:30 p.m. July 14, San Jose Event Center, 395 S. 7th St.
How much: $25 (sold out Thursday and 7 p.m. July 12)
[article shared by Lori Christie]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
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