Live Review: Tori Amos Makes a Beautiful Storm in Oakland's Paramount Theatre

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Christopher Victorio
Tori Amos at the Paramount on Friday.
Tori Amos
Friday, Dec. 16th, 2011
Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Better than:
Everything you remember her doing in the '90s.

Disclaimer: I have not followed Tori Amos in recent years. I was a huge fan of her 1992 debut album Little Earthquakes, but stopped actively buying her music somewhere around 1997. I mention this so you know that when I say that this is one of the most exquisite, enthralling, and exceptional live performances I have ever seen, I'm not saying it as a super-fan; I'm saying it as somebody whose mind just got blown by an artist I half-expected to be an annoying kook tonight.

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Christopher Victorio
From the moment this show begins -- Tori, plus a stunning string quartet -- the lovely concert hall is stunned into silence. Amos' voice is an incandescent thing that she harnesses and uses the same way a great actor uses their face -- sometimes it's the smallest inflections that carry the most weight.

It's no wonder then that she still has a vast number of superfans. Some of the people here tonight are insane for Tori Amos. These nicely dressed, button-down, thirty and forty-somethings hoot and holler between songs like teenagers having their first-ever concert experience. Grown men scream out "I love you!" and "Merry Christmas, Tori!" and (somewhat amusingly) "How are you?" The end of each song is greeted rapturously, and at the end of her set, before the encore, a great many people leap out of their seats and run to the stage to try and shake her hand -- and she is gracious enough to oblige.

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Christopher Victorio

Let's be clear about Tori Amos' performance style, though: the woman ain't fuckin' around. As soon as she's seated on her stool (which she straddles and spins on, swinging between a piano and a keyboard, sometimes playing both simultaneously), she is completely immersed in her music. She does not talk to the audience -- other than introducing the string quartet three songs in -- until the very end of the set. Any form of communication here is strictly through the music and through her gestures -- a couple of which are delightfully obscene (the angry middle finger she throws up during the "never gain weight" refrain in "Father Lucifer" is greeted by a giant roar of approval, as is the breast groping she indulges in during the "So you can make me come/ That doesn't make you Jesus" line in "Precious Things").

Watching Tori Amos is like being in the eye of a storm. There are moments that chill to the bone ("Spark" and "Lust"); moments that feel like a blanket of dark cloud just enveloped the room from the top down (the intro to "Fearlessness" and the nightmarish devastation of "Ruby Through The Looking Glass" and "Graveyard"); moments where the piano sounds like relentless rain ("Star Whisperer," "Precious Things"); but there are consistently, peppered throughout, flashes of sunshine that break through when you least expect them -- and that's really the key to Amos' power: the constant intermingling of the brightest light with the blackest dark.

Put most simply, Amos is literally stunning tonight: powerful, radiant and -- sorry to even say this -- pretty damn magical. And, at the end of it all, she proves she has a sense of humor too, by stumbling over her words during the encore, apologizing for being menopausal, then singing an impromptu little number about The Change. She ends the set on a high note, getting the audience to clap along and indulge in some call-and-response on "Big Wheel" and looks genuinely sad it's all over as she blows kisses to the audience and waves goodnight warmly.

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Christopher Victorio

Tori Amos is a revelation this evening. If you, like me, forgot about her years ago, it might well be worth you looking her back up. You won't be disappointed.  

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: I'm not one for crying in public, but Tori Amos keeps making my face leak. This is like the dreaded Band-of-Horses-at-the-Fox-Theater incident of 2009...

Shoe-off:
The only women who can wear heels that high all evening are women who get to sit down all night. Way to find a bonus perk in being stuck at a piano, Tori!

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Location Info

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Paramount Theatre

2025 Broadway, Oakland, CA

Category: Film

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