Live Review, 7/13/12: Amanda Palmer Charms the Misfits at Public Works

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Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra 
Jherek Bischoff 
Die Roten Punkte 
Friday, July 13, 2012 

Better than: The cast party for a high school musical production of "The Crucible"

Amanda Palmer's debut album posed the Twin Peaks-inspired question Who Killed Amanda Palmer; I walked into her sold-out Friday night show asking Who Is Amanda Palmer? Yes, I'd heard of The Dresden Dolls, the punk cabaret duo that made her famous, I also recall tweets about her record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, and I knew the writer Neil Gaiman, although I had no idea he was Mr. Amanda Palmer. The rest, I would discover through her music and fans, is a woman who makes a hell of a lot of people really fucking happy.


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The opener, virtuoso musician and composer Jherek Bischoff, had left the stage and I wandered around Public Works admiring the corsets and bustle skirts on the women, suits with long-chained pocketwatches on the men. They all appeared to mean something to one another, something relating to Amanda Palmer, and I floated along the outside. 

My investigation began in the ladies room. Dark-haired women in dark-colored clothes stood at either side of me in line. When I asked the woman in front of me why she liked Amanda Palmer, she narrowed her gaze, scanning my face as if to ask, What right do you have to write about Amanda Palmer? 

"She's likable," the woman responded. "She's personable. You really don't know who she is?"

Two stalls opened up and as we walked in, booming bass and a guitar riff jolted the floor below us. I heard the woman's voice singing first, then Palmer's growl, and rushed to return to the show. Slowly with brute force, the song and I pushed through the crowd. The song built and swelled with more bass, then a kick drum, and finally it opened up loud and chaotic, swallowing us as only an anthemic rock song can. 

Every person on every side of me knew the lyrics to every song, holding the words close like they had written it themselves. The crowd quieted when Palmer transitioned from rock to vaudeville to girl-and-her-piano, as emotional as a Tori Amos show, but with less pretention. When I asked people, is she the modern, Twittering Tori, they exclaimed no-no, you don't get it. Garbage, I asked? Nope. The female Marilyn Manson? Okay, even I knew that comparison was based on image alone. 

The best I can do: A pre-pubescent Ben Folds (who produced Who Killed Amanda Palmer) runs away to the circus, gets gender reassignment surgery, and plays music on the streets of post-apocalyptic London, a monkey grinder at her side. In reality, post-apocalyptic London is the Internet, and it's the streets where Palmer has created her rabid fan base. 

During one of the quiet piano numbers, which dominated the middle of the performance, I asked the stranger in front of me to move so I could take a photo and a fan shushed me. At that point, I stopped working and simply listened, letting the music take over. In between songs, Palmer engaged the audience, plugging the Kickstarter project of her bandmate and getting cheers when she announced her Fillmore show in September, a better venue for her softer, intimate songs.

Watching her smiling fans -- two couples waltzing in sync; a man with a long, gray ponytail jumping up and down like a teenage girl; the woman in the bathroom who looked annoyed when I admitted I didn't know all that much about Amanda Palmer -- it finally hit me: They love her because she loves them, she sings for them, she makes them feel like they're the only person in the room. And on Friday, Amanda Palmer made this misfit who loathed high school and loved theater feel like she'd found a sacred place where she fit in.

Critic's Notebook 

Opener: Jherek Bischoff, also a member of Amanda Palmer's Grand Theft Orchestra, put out one of my favorite albums of 2012 so far. Listen here

Overheard: "She has a song about mental illness that's amazing." 

Random detail: One incredibly drunk woman on the balcony at Public Works grinded up against Neil Gaiman with no clue who she was pawing all over, according to her sober friend.

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Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown, follow Whitney Phaneuf @Whitney_writer, and like us at Facebook.com/SFAllShookDown.

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Public Works

161 Erie, San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

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