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San Francisco Chronicle (US)
Monday, May 4, 1998

Tori Amos' Got a Ticket To Writhe at Fillmore 'Sneak preview' show as new CD is released

by James Sullivan
Chronicle Staff Writer

These days, it seems, Tori Amos could sell out shows if she simply sat motionless at her piano. Sitting still, however, might prove problematic for Amos, the undulating pop composer whose deeply intuitive writing and singing styles have inspired a devotion among fans almost unmatched in music today.

With a new band that includes longtime guitarist Steve Caton, acclaimed drummer Matt Chamberlain and Bay Area bassist Jon Evans, she plays a highly anticipated "sneak preview" date at the Fillmore Auditorium tomorrow night, the same day she releases her fourth solo album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel."

Adulation hasn't always come so easily for Amos, 34. A decade ago the songwriter stumbled hard in her major label debut, recording with a poorly received band called Y Kant Tori Read. The experience, she says, taught her plenty about an artist's duty to follow the muse.

"I'd been sending out my (demo) tape since I was 13," she says. "I had heard for so long that this girl-and-her-piano thing was never going to happen."

"So we formed this band. We rehearsed for two years and we played only one gig."

The band let itself fall victim to a particularly '80s phenomenon-- incessant, overbearing meddling by handlers and producers.

"It started to become not what we were anymore," Amos says, noting that none of the songs she'd originally written made it onto the debut album.

Based on that initial outing, few industry observers could have predicted Amos' accomplishments as a solo act. Beginning with her 1992 album "Little Earthquakes" (recorded, remarkably enough, for Atlantic, the same company that put out the early bomb), Amos has established herself as one of pop music's surest bets, and an acknowldged trailblazer for the current rush of successful female songwriters.

Though her record sales have yet to move beyond 2 million or so apiece into the realm of unequivocal superstardom, few fans are more fanatical than Amos'.

Why Fans Love Her

Such attachment can be traced to the singer's intensely personal songwriting style and her fierce determinationto shape her own career.

After the debut fiasco, she says, "I didn't have any self-respect, because I did it for the wrong reasons."

"When you do something for the right reasons, even if it fails, you can say, 'I believed in this.'"

Relying on the opinions of outsiders can be hazardous, she says: "You're on somebody's altar, and then you're in their urinal the same day."

More so than most, Amos isn't afraid to discuss the psychology of the human body. She has written boldly about rape ("Me and a Gun"), miscarriage (the new single "Spark") and women taking charge sexually (in too many songs to mention). The support group she founded, RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), bills itself as the only sexual-assault hotline with crisis centers around the country.

This preacher's daughter, raised in North Carolina and now living in England, says her blunt opinions are a direct result of her strict Christian upbringing.

"The thing I see is there's a dark side of Christianity that people don't want to look at and claim," she says, her raspy voice rising in exasperation. "For the last 2000 years, the record ain't great. There's been more bloodshed and cruelty than compassion and love."


Despite her loathing for her religious background, Amos says she has come to an understanding with her father, a man she recalls as being "very John Knoxian."

"Mary Magdalene wasn't very popular at the Sunday table. But over the years he's come to be open to her wisdom, that maybe there was something about her sexuality that had great wisdom that all the men were threatened by. He couldn't come to terms with that until his mother died, who was somebody who would have burned Mary Magdalene at the stake."

Such apocalyptic imagery is a staple of Amos' songs, contributing to her reputation as a bit of a self-serious eccentric. To some extent, she feeds the image, describing her new song "Cruel," for instance, as "very much a dark angel- very primitive, pig-Latin ghetto feminism."

But she's also perfectly capable of levity.

"I think the songs have a sense of humor all through them. That's why I get along with the Brits- I think they understand my humor."

"That's what people miss about the work sometimes. They don't see the digs I take at myself. And they don't see that sometimes the sorrow has a dirty little laugh."


TORI AMOS performs at 8 tomorrow night at the Fillmore Auditorium, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco. David Poe is the opening act. The show is sold out. Call (415) 346-6000 for information.

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