To start this review off properly, I have to begin by saying this may be the most difficult piece I've written to talk about a show. Amanda Palmer's performance – it was so very much more than simply a concert – delved deeply, without restraint and without regard for societal “norms” around some topics. Because I'm writing for a broader crowd, I am imposing restraint on myself in a way that, thankfully, she didn't. I want to also be clear that this is a choice I'm making on my own, and is not something being imposed on me by any editors of this paper. As much as I wish it weren't so, I do know the reality of the world we live in.
With all of that out of the way, on May 30th, Amanda Palmer – one half of the incredible Dresden Dolls duo – took the stage of The Pageant in St. Louis. Supporting her latest solo album, “There Will Be No Intermission,” the show consisted of Ms. Palmer, a piano, and the stories that she told, both through spoken word and song. This was not so much a concert as an evening of listening to this woman tell her life story in vivid, gut-wrenching, beautiful detail that pulled absolutely zero punches.
Opening the evening with a track right off the new album – “Drowning In The Sound” – and carrying on from there into stories from her early childhood, through her adolescence and teen years, college, this truly was a life story. But at the same time, it wasn't a biography.
Through numbers like “Judy Blume,” “Runs In The Family,” and “Bigger on the Inside,” Palmer told stories of moments that were, truly, defining moments. Any one of those would have set the tone for a person for their entire existence, and they are all hers. The stories are about choices made, choices taken away, the idea that no one can make decisions for another person, and the fact that even doing the right thing for yourself can be the hardest decision ever made.
This show is heavy. It carries not just weight, but importance.
If you see this show and walk out feeling like you're not carrying a part of a greater burden, then I would challenge you to rethink whether you were actually paying attention. As Ms. Palmer states in the show, however, she never intends to leave audiences in the dark. Take them there, yes. But – as a response to criticism she has embraced – she takes the dark and makes light. In this case, the dark is broken up by songs like “Oasis,” which makes you tap your feet until you hear what's being said. Then you're left confused whether you should be enjoying yourself or not. There are covers of Disney numbers “Part of Your World” and “Let It Go” that, after the set-up from Palmer's wicked sense of humor, you'll never hear the same way again. And, of course, the Dresden Dolls' “Coin-Operated Boy” makes an appearance to lighten the load just a little.
Some numbers, like “A Mother's Confession,” will have you laughing before you realize there are tears streaming down your face. “Voicemail for Jill,” on the other hand, is a fight song that may not sound like it at first blush, but everyone should pay attention to this number, and this album.
Amanda Palmer, with this show, has opened herself up to a degree that most people never will. There are those out there that will be more than happy to try and pull her down for it. But even if, for whatever reason, you disagree with her views, she needs to be applauded and commended for standing up and – again, as she said, not me – making light of the dark places. Even if your mind isn't changed by the topics addressed, another take-away from this is the absolute need in this world for compassion. And if that's not a universal constant, I don't know what is.
This show, these songs, this album is not for everyone. Maybe they should be, but you can't force people into a belief. And that's really the whole point, isn't it: Believe what's right for you, but stop trying to impose those beliefs on others, and certainly don't try to enforce those beliefs through archaic, demeaning legislation.
As I'm writing this – nearly a week after the show – it's the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment being approved by the US Senate, barring voter discrimination on the basis of sex. That's not at all what this album, these stories, are about. But it feels pretty fitting anyway.