I don’t know how famous Amanda Palmer is in this neck of the woods (Romania), but I have rarely caught the glimmer in the eyes of those I asked timidly if they had heard about the Dresden Dolls. On last.fm there was no local tint of punk cabaret, so I spread the news about their music with every opportunity that presented itself. Since 2006, when my teen ears were first introduced to the land of contemporary cabaret, the lyrics strongly resonated with the angst I was struggling to keep at bay and while my friends were banging their heads to heavy metal, I painted my face in white, experimenting with striped monochrome costumes and directing childish skits with my best friend.
After the Dresden Dolls split up, Amanda started collaborating with several bands and musicians, pulling two records out of the hat and, for the present album, Theatre is Evil, she was joined by the Grand Theft Orchestra (Jherek Bischoff - bass, Chad Raines - guitar, Michael Mcquilken/Thor Harris - drums), conceiving a crowdfunding campaign on kickstarter. They not only reached the target of 100k, but the campaign got funded at 1.2 million dollars! The money came from only 25.000 backers, figure that coincides with the selling record of one of her previous label records. The industry bigshots could not wrap their heads around this outcome and Amanda started giving them free lessons on how to be a humanity-driven performer today. She got invited to do a talk at TED about “The art of asking”. Pretty ironic. The world is so messed up that we have forgotten how simple it really is.
Fast-forwarding to the present day, after the final show of the tour financed through the kickstarter campaign, which I had the privilege of attending, thanks to that same best friend which has now turned into an alchemist. It’s been more than one week since that show and I am still drunk in awe.
Before the concert, we were lucky enough to have to wait 30mins in line for the doors, in the prickly cold German evening, and to absorb everybody’s excitement. Strongly encouraged by what I was witnessing, I felt like I was part of a secret organization of universal tolerance: punks alongside goths, Victorians in their 30s next to kids of the digital age in “we are the media” t-shirts, lgbts, moms, lovers, me and the Transylvanian alchemist.
Once the show started, the background melted on the stage and us people in the first row were completely absorbed. I don’t know about the rest… I only remember being almost teleported on stage at the end and seeing all the smiling faces in the smoke that slided behind their ears.
A burlesque comedy band, made up of two singing mimes, Die Roten Punkte, opened the show with a choreography that made everyone feel invited to join and roar like a lion. They were followed by Jherek Bischoff, who played his ukulele, sobbing. The handsome giant played with David Byrne and Kronos Quartet, to name a few. Check him out.
After handing out balloons, Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra started their tour de force with the hit song „Do it with a rockstar”, a sort of parody on the presupposed lifestyle of rock music gods. Amanda jumped in the crowd without hesitation, not before she made sure that the disabled people in the audience were safe on stage, witnessing the madness, and she grabbed me in camaraderie while she was blaring out “are you really sure you wanna go when you can do it with a rockstar”. All I could do was hug the “beast”. She drew the crowd towards her and managed to pick quite a narrative playlist for a 3-hour long experience. Amanda crowdsurfed with ease and self-control, while the jacket she was wearing left a long, translucent trail under which we all huddled, happy like kids in a living room tent. The recurrent theme of the evening was death, presented with lucidity and honesty, so that the tribute to Lou Reed, “Take a walk on the wildside” became a celebration of life.
After I was smooshed against the subwoofers with a stupid grin on my face, as the Bavarians were head-butting Amanda on „Smells like teen spirit”, I took a dive on „Half Jack” and „Hallelujah”. I have never heard a better cover of daddy Cohen’s song, one rivaling the one that Jeff Buckley sang. I was holding tight onto my alchemist as we murmured the lyrics with tears in our eyes, while the silence grew around us.
The hallelujah (surely it became an adjective that night) finale sparked the catharsis of the new believers and of those who already believed in the power of Amanda’s music. While the legion of fans was forming a queue to meet her and the band, I went outside for a cigarette. I noticed the girl in the wheelchair that was standing next to me before the concert. I approached her and confessed that I felt her warmth while I was watching her unravel on stage. It had been, I believed, an incredible experience (although maybe even painful): to be up there, to watch the crowd hop around and carry Amanda on their arms every time she took a fearless dive. I asked if I could hug her and she met my request with that glimmer I had longed to see in others. We embraced for a while and then her friends surrounded us and took us to eat and drink and share our stories openly, not before I asked Amanda to sign a photo of my grandparents when they were young, the only thing I always carry with me.
Amanda Palmer is another breed of musician. Through a combination of street performance, cabaret, punk, 80s pop music, love and acceptance, this inspiring woman always succeeds to create the necessary platform for her message to be heard. Thus, her relationship with her followers is as organic as it gets, one that not everyone is ready to embrace just yet. Some people can get angry when they see the reflection of a life freed from canonical constraints in an artist who exudes confidence. Probably all they hear her say is “this could be you, but you choose everyday not to go down this road”. They are also free to look away. What I see is that Amanda Palmer is helping humans connect and empathize. In any case, no matter what comes next for the music industry, I have a feeling that Amanda has already played the bugle call for a revolution.