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Amanda Palmer
Amanda Palmer at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, CA, June 25th, 2009
Jun 29, 2009 By Laura Studarus

Thursday June 25th at seven p.m., I saw Michael Jackson on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. across from the Troubadour. We didn’t exchange pleasantries. To be honest, clutching a withered “I love you” balloon, single tear streaking out of his left eye; he looked like he’d had a hard day. Even for an Amanda Palmer concert—a place where marauding punks, theater geeks, and other characters that would make my mother nervous, flock to with almost a religious fervor—it was weird.

Shortly after the first song of the evening, a ukulele version of Bright Eyes’ “Lua” delivered from the balcony, Palmer herself confirmed my suspicions. “This is going to be a weird night…” Uh yeah, it started by encountering fake King of Pop! off to my right, the bushy head of the King of Fake Pop, Weird Al Yankovic, nodded in agreement. Yes, weird.

Then again, when at an Amanda Palmer show, a certain amount of the strange, weird, and wonderful is to be expected. Performance style honed from her duties with Brechtian punk duo The Dresden Dolls, solo Amanda Palmer gigs are an assemblage of punk attitude, brash musicality, and uncensored emotion—the gestalt of which assuring that, even when there hasn’t been a day of national mourning, you’ll never get the same show twice.

Offering up an evening of catharsis, material from Palmer’s solo debut Who Killed Amanda Palmer was kept to a minimum, despite clear audience approval of album highlights “Ampersand,” “Runs in the Family,” “Astronaut,” and, at a fervent request, kids-will-be-kids song “Oasis.” Palmer, refusing to play it safe, or to provide a simple retread of her December Los Angeles concert at The Henry Fonda Theater, treated the audience to several solo-reworkings of Dresden Doll songs. Among the list of favorites, Palmer slipped in a rarity from their first album A is for Accident, “Bank of Boston Beauty Queen,”—which contained a line any pseudo-adult can appreciate—“I may be living in la la land, but at least I’m not living at home.” As an additional treat, Palmer also played two unrecorded songs in Los Angeles for the first time: the paen to wanderlust “Australia,” and a heartbreaking, untitled song about two uncommunicative lovers.

Two-thirds of the way though the show, Palmer began to take audience requests—causing the decibel level between songs to painfully skyrocket. However, this move is to be expected from a woman who, despite juggling many artistic pursuits and self-booking a world tour, remains the paradigm of accessible. Not once, but twice during the show (which, as Palmer herself predicted, stretched long past the two-hour mark) the music was stopped in favor of an “Ask Amanda” session. Despite attendees’ seemingly endless obsession with her newly-announced significant other, author Neil Gaiman, Palmer patiently answered several potentially embarrassing questions about their relationship, including “What is your favorite body part of Neil Gaiman?” The final answer—“His hair is an amazing, chaotic halo of life. But I think I like his smile best.”—elicited coos from the audience. Gaiman, perched in the balcony, blushed a cherry red. It was their relationship that Palmer used as a spring board to promote/pimp her newest project, the Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, a coffee table photo book paring of “dead” images of herself with original short stories written by Gaiman. A tribute to the power of direct marketing, Palmer read an entire story recounting one of her many grizzly deaths to an audience so rapped one could hear a pin drop.

Despite Palmer’s absorbing theatrics, the night really belonged to the King of Pop, as evidenced by two covers which easily stood out as show highlights. The first was a Michael Jackson cover, “Billie Jean,” which Palmer admitted to learning in 20 minutes between sound check and the show. Slowing down the driving pop beat of the original, Palmer made it hers, matching the melancholy of so many fans around the world. The sorrow again returned during the show closer when, fully engrossed in the ad-hoc wake, Palmer performed a touching version of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah.” Arm-in-arm, lighters aloft, the audience swayed in response, comforted. In a world where, just hours earlier, one dimmed light had affected so many, it was a very sweet end to, yes, a very weird day.