Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(ANNANDALE-on-HUDSON, N.Y.) – Rock singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer is very much a cabaret artist at heart – literally and figuratively – and thus it was magical to see her perform in the intimate, casual cabaret setting of Bard Spiegeltent.
Casual was the operative word on Friday night, but at no expense to drama or entertainment. Palmer’s material is so strong; her wit is so quick; her persona so sharp, that she could pull off a 90-minute show that was seemingly entirely improvised.
The show kicked off with Palmer in the rear of the tent, standing on the bar, launching into her patented version of Radiohead’s “Creep,” accompanying herself only on ukulele. It’s a theme song of sorts for her – and, by implication, her fans (almost by definition you have to be a “weirdo” to like Amanda Palmer) – but as with most of her work, there’s a meta- thing going on with the music. I can’t say much more than that, because I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t seen or heard it, but also because it’s really impossible to put into words. You just have to trust me; you’ll never hear “Creep” the same way again.
Palmer had a few songs she was intent on playing, and took some requests, too. She did a riotous version of her racy novelty tune, “Map of Tasmania” (although it’s hard to say with Palmer what is a novelty and what isn’t, since so much of her stuff is novel), which had the sold-out crowd engaging in a four-letter-word call-and-response with gusto.
On record, songs like “Do It with a Rock Star” are full-band productions, but Palmer is such a dynamic performer and piano player that she totally rocked that tune on piano – literally rocking the piano so hard that her glass of wine perched on top tipped over (putting one in mind of Tom Waits’s, “The Piano Has Been Drinking”). Another of her greatest hits, “The Bed Song,” was tailor-made for the solo piano rendition she gave of what is perhaps the saddest song ever written.
With Palmer’s connections to Bard and the region, her set featured several special guests, including writer/husband Neil Gaiman, who teaches at Bard, who sang a Magnetic Fields song in honor of his friend and sometime-collaborator, Stephin Merritt, who lives in nearby Hudson.
Palmer ended the evening with a reading of Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!”, written on the occasion of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, on this occasion dedicated to the late Robin Williams. And she brought the curtain down with “Ukulele Anthem,” which as the title indicates, celebrates her instrument of choice (when she’s not playing the piano).
I have to give her credit – I typically can’t stand ukulele. But in her hands, the instrument merely becomes an extension of her personality and music, so whatever I find annoying about it fades away, instead just leaving the joy of Palmer’s odes to life as a creative weirdo.