“Isn’t it amazing how we can never tell who’s in identical hell,” sings Amanda Palmer, late in her solo concert at The Queen’s Hall on Clerk Street in Edinburgh on August 9.
It’s true, with her heart-breaking songs, interspersed with stories of miscarriage, abortion, and death, ‘An Evening With Amanda F*cking Palmer’ is a insight into the inner life of an artist who is acutely aware of her own grief and is ready to channel it into what is shaping up to be another masterpiece of an album. At the same time she seems more aware of how universal misery can be, and more ready to accept that her experiences are by no means unique.
John Congleton, who Amanda worked with on her last proper studio release Theatre Is Evil in 2012, will produce this new album. This as yet untitled record will see a shift to a sadder, more reflective tone for Amanda, with an emphasis on shared stories drawn from the experiences of her fans – rather than mined exclusively from her personal life.
One song where this is particularly evident is ‘Drowning In The Sound’, which was partly written in response to Hurricane Harvey – which caused widespread flooding in Texas in 2017. The lyrics drew on the comments of some of her fans on Patreon. You can see the shift in perspective in lines like, “And I’m out in the yard / with my son and daughter / and the sky is all black and I think we should start running…. / running from the water,” and in the chorus, “I can’t get out / I can’t look down / if you can hear / if you’re around / I’m over here / I’m over here / I’m watching everyone I love / drowning in the sound.” Musically there’s a heavy Ani Difranco influence, with a much more staccato style both in the piano playing and in Amanda’s vocals.
This move away from writing about her own life and experiences is partly down to her marriage to author Neil Gaiman; who is currently in London working on the upcoming TV adaption of his novel Good Omens, written with the late Terry Pratchett and due to be released on Amazon Prime next spring. Amanda explains that for much of her career she’s used the breakdown of relationships as fodder for songwriting material, but now that she’s married – to a fiction writer no less – she’s had to push herself out of her comfort zone.
This doesn’t mean that the show doesn’t contain some highly personal songs. There’s a rendition of ‘Machete’, her song in memoriam for her mentor Anthony, and the eleven-minute long epic ‘A Mother’s Confession’ about being overwhelmed with motherhood – with lines such as, “This mess is so gigantic I wonder if I should have had a child,” and ends with an audience rendition of, “At least the baby didn’t die.”
As this was a stripped down solo show, just Amanda with her grand piano and ukulele for three hours, there was a little audience participation, but it wasn’t nearly as anarchic as previous live shows she’s done. Instead the mood was sombre, something she was aware of – frequently checking in with the audience to see if they needed a ‘palate cleaner’.
Previous hits from her first solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer made an appearance, including ‘Ampersand’ and ‘Oasis’ – her controversial song about a teenage abortion. One of her aims for this tour and her next album is to talk more openly about the three abortions that she’s had, as well a miscarriage last year, and during the set she often referred back to ‘Oasis’.
She said, “I wrote this song about abortion when I was 26. I’m 42 now, so 26 seems like a distant memory. This was me at 25,26, writing a song about an abortion, not specifically about that abortion, but trying to work out how to write a song about abortion.”
It seems like she has finally worked out how to do this. A cover of ‘Brick’ by Ben Folds Five acts as a springboard to a new song called ‘Voicemail To Jill’, both discuss abortion in a more thoughtful way – though Amanda is keen to point out that ‘Oasis’ is satirical and that if she’d written it in a minor key she might not have received as much criticism as she did.
“When you can’t joke about the darkness that’s when the darkness takes over,” she says, and she’s right. While there’s a lot of sadness in this show there’s also a sense of solidarity, as well as the satisfaction of watching someone excel at their craft.
Words: Ana Hine
An Evening With Amanda F*cking Palmer, The Queen’s Hall, 85-89 Clerk Street, EH8 9JG.
Aug 17-18, 19:00