Sunday 15 December 2019

Review Pop: Tori Amos at the Olympia Theatre, Dublin

Tori Amos
Tori Amos

Ed Power

Surveying the condition of women in pop, it's hard not to conclude things have gone backwards - if Miley Cyrus swinging on a giant wrecking ball is as close as the mainstream comes to radical feminism, clearly the situation is bleak.

Twenty years ago, when Tori Amos released her second album, Under The Pink, and scored her most enduring hit, ‘Cornflake Girl’ (omitted tonight), the outlook was very different. A new generation of young female artists were stepping forward, buzzing with ambition yet fiercely cognisant of their gender, of the particular struggles they were confronted with as a result.

The sisterhood also included Bjork, PJ Harvey and Alanis Morissette but even among her peers, Amos, right, was, as per The Stranglers track she would subsequently record, a strange little girl. Her songs were dreamy with glints of nightmarishness and, two decades on, fragments of that exquisite weirdness endure, writhing like smoke above a tar-pit of Gen X angst.

The sensibility is especially palpable as she performs ‘Silent All These Years’. Her voice rich and soaring, her piano-playing possessing an almost Wagnerian stomp, Amos shrieks and rails. Against what? Take your pick: the patriarchy, domestic violence, the music industry, low self expectation... it's all in there, bright as blood.

It is a pulse-quickening moment. Unfortunately the concert, the second of an 80-date world tour, cries out for more of the same and the North Carolina native isn't inclined to deliver. In Cork two nights previously, Amos served up a ‘best of' set, delving into Under The Pink, Little Earthquakes and Boys For Pele, the bizarre and beautiful LP she assembled in a Wicklow church in 1995 (and which nearly capsized her career).

She does not seem in a crowd-pleasing frame of mind at the Olympia. With her vast spectacles and vivid green dress, Amos could pass for a sort of dotty American tourist  and the song selection is similarly idiosyncratic.

There are fan-beloved numbers such as ‘Tear In Your  Hand’ and ‘Leather’ and several engaging surprises. Still, the show meanders too — a ‘Lounge Lizard' section in which she covers favourite tunes by other artists feels like a missed opportunity with Amos giving homage to Ricky Lee Jones (‘On Saturday Afternoons in 1963’), Sinead O'Connor (‘Three Babies’) and, in a meta interlude it is difficult to get your head around, the aforementioned Miley (‘Rooting For My Baby’).

In full flight, Amos is a formidable talent, with a left hook that can knock you out of your comfort zone. She deploys her gifts sparingly tonight.

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