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Review of the Week: Amanda Palmer * * * *
Sugar Club

By Ed Power
Friday February 20 2009

Amanda Palmer likes to describe her music has "Brechtian punk cabaret". But perhaps it's more straightforward to talk of her as the thinking person's goth songbird.

Steeped in mournful piano and splashed with bucketfuls of dark wit, her songs are acrid, arch and agreeably dank: at moments it's like listening to Tori Amos covering Emily Dickinson or stumbling upon a furious mash-up of Alanis Morissette and Edgar Allan Poe.

Palmer, on extended leave from her band, The Dresden Dolls, has just wrapped up a tour of Continental Europe. She hadn't originally planned on performing in Dublin. However, upon learning her friend, the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, would be in town for a premiere of his movie Coraline, she decided to book an extra date. If she was initially wary of playing Ireland, that's hardly a surprise.

In Belfast last year, she was run over while scanning her Blackberry and was forced to deliver the rest of her winter concerts in a plaster cast.

Standing before the swooning room in a cobwebbed dress, she smiles mischievously and plunges into an acapella version of the 1798 dirge The Wind That Shakes The Barley. Owing more to Dead Can Dance's spectral version than to anything your grandmother might have warbled by the fireside, it's a reading that induces goose-bumps, though Palmer's Boston accent occasionally distracts.

Whipping off her frock to reveal T-shirt, hot pants and dark tights, she settles behind her keyboard and steps dutifully through her recent solo debut. Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Ampersand is a strained, wistful plea to be left alone, Guitar Hero reveals surprising soft-rock tendencies behind her marble exterior.

A tousle-haired Gaiman is in the audience and, as a shout out, Palmer dusts down a tune they wrote together: the creepy-cute study of obsession I Google You. Yet the evening's most affecting moment comes towards the end when, having fluffed her way through a Radiohead-esque new track (she will close with a cover of Creep, circling the room as she plays), Palmer swaps keyboard for the plangent ukulele trill of Dear Old House I Grew Up In. The song is an unashamedly drippy paean to her childhood home, written upon learning of her parents' plans to sell up and move out. Singers who dust down youthful memories for public perusal often risk coming off as twee or maudlin. Palmer, though, gets the mix of sentimentality and ache exactly right: by the time she's finished, half the audience look as if they're ready to dab their eyes with a handkerchief.

She may have cultivated a rather forbidding persona, but behind the goth trappings, it's clear Palmer is an old-fashioned softie at heart.

- Ed Power