Did you know that Twitter is crazy about Tori Amos? Did you know that Tori Amos had a top-10 record as recently as 2009? Did you know that when Tori Amos wears vinyl (leather??) pants with heels, she pulls the pants down over the heels, making a weird kind of foot tent? Did you know that she waves by opening and closing her hand in your direction while smiling, which has the charming/disarming affect of making you feel like a baby’s she’s really excited about? Did you know that she’s the kind of person who sings little songs about basically everything she does, all the time, forever, so that looking for her glasses or disentangling her heel/pants/foot tent from a stray cord becomes a song (sample lyric for the glasses song, for which she got the audience to clap along: “I need to see/ In my menopausal state/ I need to see”)? And that, honestly, these songs sound pretty much exactly like her real songs, which brings up certain questions about the rigorousness of her artistic process?
I did not know these things before attending my very first Tori Amos concert last night at the sorta-recently reopened Rough Trade Brooklyn. The crowd was full of die-hard fans who’d lined up at 9 that morning to pre-order her new record (the very Tori-Amos-ly named Unrepentant Geraldines, out May 13th ) and who’d line up afterwards to have her sign a picture of herself. I heard Amos anticipated spending 3 hours sitting in Rough Trade’s record shop, signing record-sized blowups of the new album’s cover for the line that snaked back and forth through the store and nearly out the door. I have to confess that I didn’t stick around to see if it actually took that long, but it seemed pretty plausible. Hugging fans and posing for photos, Amos couldn’t have gone through more than two fans in half an hour.
No one was complaining. The crowd was absolutely bonkers for her. They cheered like crazy at the start of each song. They cheered like crazy at certain parts of certain songs. They cheered like crazy when a young girl in black came out at the beginning of the show to mark the beginning of the livestream by clapping one of those film things they are always clapping in movies (“a slate,” you will know it is called, if you are “in the industry,” or “annoying”). The crowd online was crazy for her, too. I tweeted a photo of Amos during the show, and it was immediately retweeted by a half dozen twitter accounts that seem to be entirely devoted to Tori Amos news.
To be honest, I’ve always been fascinated by Amos. I grew up in the 1990s in a small suburb in South Florida. Even though, at the time, a young and not-yet-famous Megan Fox was going to the other high school in town and Vanilla Ice was moving in (I think he liked our golf courses), we were pretty hard up for celebrities. This is maybe why the rumor that Tori Amos’ mom lived in town was so exciting, and so often repeated. It seemed believable for several reasons. For one, you heard it from people all over town. They’d seen her in Barnes and Noble! They’d seen her at a gas station! They’d seen her waiting for a table at Applebees! Too many unrelated people seemed to be involved. Also, though she was perhaps at the height of her mass popularity in the late 1990s (1994’s Under The Pink and 1996’s Boys For Pele being her biggest hits), she was still a pretty random choice for a bunch of Florida teens to make up seeing. Why not Puff Daddy or Blind Melon or 311?
Growing up, then, I always had the sense that she was around. That I might round an aisle in the grocery store and bump into her. That she was a cool person my friends knew who I didn’t get invited to hang out with. This gave her music—always intensely personal—and her videos—almost always aggressively, realistically sexual—a weird feeling for me. I felt guilty for listening. I felt guilty for watching. I was embarrassed somehow on her behalf. Not that she was embarrassed! But as a 13-year-old, I just couldn’t imagine that you’d want to be that out there if you really understood what it meant. I certainly did not want that.
(As it turns out, the rumors are true. Her father, the Rev. Edison Amos, has her name trademarked on behalf of Tori Amos Universal Entertainment, Inc., from my home town, Port St. Lucie, FL.)
At the end of the day, maybe the only thing you’d really want to know about a Tori Amos concert is 2014 is this: how did she sound? Amazing. She sat alone at the piano, playing in the same beautiful, mournful way she did 20 years ago, and her voice is full of the same power and mystery that made me intensely attracted to her and intensely embarrassed and guilty about that 20 years ago.
Amos is currently gearing up for an 80-city world tour, an impressive physical feat for someone who’s just celebrated her 50th birthday. Not that she seemed to be under any duress. She smiled. She banged on the piano for percussion. She put on lip gloss between songs. The audience (which included fellow piano diva Regina Spektor), swayed like a field of grass, with some members quietly crying. It was a good show.