Amanda Palmer photo by Francesca Nottola

Amanda Palmer photo by Francesca Nottola


Theoretically, this is supposed to be one of the UK dates for the presentation of Amanda Palmer’s book ‘The Art of Asking’. The book is autobiographical and addresses the topic of crowdfunding but also the more general issue of asking for things and why people find it so difficult. In practice, it turns out to be one of the best shows I’ve ever been to.

When I arrive at the venue at 7.30, they are playing The Smiths in the background, oh what a wonderful way to wait. A majestic Steinway grand piano is there, covered with flowers and surrounded by ukuleles and more flowers on the floor. The hall is full of very colourful people of all ages, styles and genders. I’ve read a lot about this woman, I’ve watched her brilliant TED talk (6 million views) and music videos, I have listened to her lyrics and I am fascinated by this unique artist. The expectations are high, and they will be largely exceeded.

Amanda Palmer appears like a Botticelli Spring lady, a vision. She is infinitely elegant and graceful with flowers decorating her hair and a belly full of baby. Her being pregnant will be the main theme of the night, between jokes about pregnancy propaganda and more serious and intimate thoughts about becoming a mother.

Proudly displaying her thankfully not royal bump, Palmer stands in front of the piano and starts singing the haunting verses of Robert Dwyer Joyce’s ballad ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ a cappella. She has an incredibly deep, powerful and clear voice that fills the hall, which is now full and completely silent, in awe, and bursts into the first of many loud applauses. She then moves to the piano to play ‘Astronaut: A Short History Of Nearly Nothing’. She has an incredible presence and so much charisma that she could sell it. The strength of her personality and the total freedom with which she expresses herself are very refreshing.

The show continues with an intense ‘Ampersand’. Unlike many of her colleagues, who might be popular but have little (or nothing) to say, Amanda Palmer, with everything she has done so far, has already gained her place in the history of music with her extraordinary performances, campaigns for freedom of expression and her special relationship with her fans. After the song, Palmer smiles and says ‘Hello!’. Someone shouts ‘you look beautiful!’ The musician asks if anyone else is pregnant in the room. A few ladies put their hands up. It’s not the first time I hear musicians talk about parenthood on stage, but I’ve never been to a pregnancy-centred gig, and it’s funny. Then she says: ‘I’m too scared to talk to you!’, revealing her fear of interacting with British people ‘inappropriately’, given that she regularly gets told off about what she can and cannot do or say in Britain or to British people. I feel her pain.

While introducing the alliteration masterpiece ‘I Want You But I Don’t Need You’, Palmer jokes on the fact that her songs about love and death (‘essentially all of them’) acquired more pathos since she became pregnant. And then she hammers on the piano, smiling, with that piercing look in her eyes. And while sitting on that stool, she looks like a volcano going to erupt tons of lava. You can feel that she struggles to sit still, so much is the energy trapped in that body. She pushes those piano pedals with her crazy little feet in a frantic obsession and it is so liberating to see someone play a grand piano with no shoes on. I wonder how could she possibly be a living statue. She comments that it’s unusual for her to play in such a ‘grown-up place’, and confesses that a crazy question has just passed in her mind, that is to ask the audience if anyone has any good reasons as to why she should not have this baby, they should speak now or shut up forever. And she laughs. We’ve all watched too many films, I suppose.

Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer

Someone requests ‘Oasis’, a song about abortion following rape at a party. Palmer comments that that would be pretty fucked up as a pregnant woman, and she recalls how the song and video were criticised because she had used major chords and a party tone to deal with those issues. She then jokes on the fact that if she had written the song in minor chords and a slower tempo it would have been fine. And she plays a few seconds of the song in a dramatic, death-paced minor tone, making everybody giggle. Obviously, she eventually plays the original version in major. She laments being labelled as ‘controversial’ whatever she does, while she seems full of common sense to me, in the best possible way. After declining a few requests from the audience, Palmer chooses to play ‘The Killing Type’ and ‘Leeds United’. At the end of the song it’s building-shaking cheering and clapping.

The setlist unfolds with ‘Vegemite (The Black Death)’ – ‘a little song for my baby daddy’ (her husband, writer Neil Gaiman) – of which my favourite verse is: ‘my heart is in your hands. Please wash your hands’. Everybody laughs. Next up is the obsessive ‘Runs in the Family’. Someone requests the ‘Daily Mail song’, which Palmer wrote as a response to the ridiculously prude comment about her Glastonbury performance in 2013 that ‘a breast had escaped her bra’, confirming the British obsession with the tragedy of ‘wardrobe malfunction’. Palmer replies that she would have played it if she had had a chance to decorate her belly to play it naked.

Palmer continues with her confessions saying that child birth is scary, but meeting Morrissey is scarier. She is going to open for Morrissey in San José, California, at the end of June and, when asked if she wanted to meet him, after some thought, Palmer declined because she was afraid he might be in a bad mood and be mean to her and then all the Smiths songs would be ruined for her (How could you possibly think that, Amanda? Please reconsider). Then she adds: ‘Morrissey hates Manchester. I don’t hate you, and I’m now going to reconnect with my inner Morrissey, their [The Smiths’] songs are so beautiful’. Palmer explains that she had practised a Smiths song in Edinburgh ‘to do it right for us’. And then she plays a wonderful piano cover of ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’. She must have listened to British bands a lot, as references to British musicians appear in her lyrics, chosen covers and t-shirts (The Who, Nick Drake, Blur, Oasis, Sex Pistols, Radiohead). At this point she moves to the organ in the hall, breathes deeply into the microphone and performs the disquieting Dresden Dolls song ‘Will’, clearly enjoying playing with the many knobs of the instrument.

Palmer reminds us that we can support her on (‘a Kickstarter that never ends’), since she doesn’t like to be bound to labels, nor deadlines. ‘So you can pay me when I give you something nice’, she says. She is a pioneer of crowdfunding and has successfully raised thousands of dollars on Kickstarter, Pledge Music and Indiegogo before.

Amanda Palmer

Amanda Palmer

Palmer then grabs a ukulele, says that for some reason she can’t stop thinking about Neko Case and sings ‘The Thing About Things’. I’m not a big fan of ukuleles, but she makes me forget that by playing the hilarious anti-shaving anthem ‘Map of Tasmania’. The next song is ‘In My Mind’, a beautiful song about identity and the struggle of being true to oneself. Like Morrissey’s, Palmer’s lyrics focus a lot on the freedom to assert one’s identity against social constraints and to live consistently with one’s principles and dreams. Unsurprisingly, lots of people can relate to these ideas, making their fans among the most dedicated in the world. By the way, the sound at the College of Music is absolutely perfect tonight.

After roughly 90 minutes, Palmer pauses the music to explain that, despite this being a promotional tour for the book, she didn’t want to bore her audience for two hours talking about it. She then invites a gorgeous lady with a mohawk hairstyle and rainbow-coloured jacket to choose a part of the book for her to read. The chosen excerpt describes her experience as a busker and living statue and the incredible amount of abuse and hate mail she received when she first set up a website. The insults ranged from negative comments about her body to her choice of not caring about shaving or about the quality of the music of her previous band Dresden Dolls. But alongside the hate, there was also a great power in the crowds. She recalls a time when she went to a music shop to try a piano and a shop assistant told her to leave. Feeling humiliated, she had written about it on her blog, with details of the shop. Her fans became so angry at the shop management that Palmer decided to delete the post. She says ‘I had tasted power, and it was awful’.

The show continues with the touching ‘Bigger on the Inside’. With her poignant lyrics, Palmer pierces through and targets your inner thoughts and most hidden emotions and brings them out and you just can’t lie to yourself. Her authenticity and choice of topics indirectly encourages listeners too to deal with what psychologists would eloquently call ’their shit’. We are all hypnotised, she is overwhelming.

It’s question time now and a friend who accompanies her on tour, Whitney Moses, brings the questions on some bits of paper. Things like: ‘How are you?’, ‘Are you proud of everything you have done?’, to which she replies ‘Yes!’, ‘Any ambitions yet to fulfil?’ ‘Yes, taking a break and having an ‘extreme’ (intense, full-time) baby-having’.

Palmer comments on how nice it is to have friends on tour to help her ‘do the things’ and then embarks on a self-ironic cover of ‘Pregnant Women are Smug’, by Los Angeles folk comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates. Essentially a piss-take of the sickening propaganda about the ‘miracle’ of having babies. Moses proves to be not only an efficient stage assistant, but also an amazing singer on the duet for ‘Delilah’, another Dresden Dolls song.

It’s 10pm and Palmer fulfils some marketing duties. She reminds us that she’ll be signing books the following day at Waterstones and that, if requested kindly, she can draw penises on them. She adds that at the merch desk we can buy t-shirts where the ‘fucking’ in Amanda Fucking Palmer has now be made optional following the request of school teachers who had not been able to wear them at work. ‘You can write it yourself now’. Finally, another item available is pens specifically designed to write complaint letters to The Daily Mail.

The following song, the fantastic Dresden Dolls hit ‘Coin-Operated Boy’ is saluted with screams of joy by the audience. Palmer then confesses that she is scared of childbirth because she fears that her art might become boring, but that she will still try to be a good mother, and covers a tender song about motherhood by Kimya Dawson, ‘All I Could Do’, which leads to a standing ovation.

At 10.15 Palmer leaves the stage and comes back after a few minutes to conclude with her ‘Ukulele Anthem’, which praises the peacekeeping powers of the tiny instrument and argues that if Sid Vicious had had a ukulele he probably would have been happy and not killed his girlfriend Nancy.

Well, what else can I say. Amanda Palmer is a creative genius, an extraordinary performer and an intelligent, funny, free, graceful, powerful, courageous, genuine human being. Add more joy to your life by acquainting yourself with her work and never miss her live.

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Francesca Nottola

I write, translate, edit texts and take pictures. I solve problems for pensioners and create problems to everyone else. Sometimes a history researcher and language tutor, I would happily live in a national archive or in the head of professional musicians. Unfortunately, I say what I think