Tori Amos Repents at the Ryman: A Shared Experience

What can be waxed poetic about a live performance by Tori Amos that hasn’t already been covered over the last 25 years? Not much, but her stop in Music City on Monday night at the world famous Ryman Auditorium proved the 50-year-old songstress hasn’t lost any of her magic.

Amos’ latest outing in support of Unrepentant Geraldines (her first proper pop full-length release in five years), finds her touring solo with the bare essentials – her pitch-perfect voice, Bösendorfer, and inimitable charisma. Although I personally prefer when she performs with a band, as playing with others forces Amos out of her comfort zone and the results are usually unforgettably rewarding, over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of an intimate Amos solo performance. Amos heavily mined her vast canon of baroque compositions stripped to their core, and skillfully delivered each one as a revealingly honest pop song confessional.

The attendance of this particular show marked my 11th Amos concert, and I was accompanied by a friend and fellow music enthusiast, who wasn’t very familiar with her repertoire, and I was curious how he’d react to his first venture into the world of Tori Amos. I’d learned long ago not to expect to convert a novice, as Amos’ set lists have always been cherry-picked like a classic iPod had been shaken and/or shuffled. Quickly my curiosities were vanquished as I watched my crony wriggling impatiently like an unruly child trying to sit still in church and he seemed more interested in the pre-show musical selections of Led Zeppelin’s greatest hits. I, on the other hand, was wanting to jump up and down ecstatically as I reveled in hearing some of my all-time favorite Amos compositions, some of which I’d been waiting to hear performed live for several years. My only consolation was sitting in the midst of two-thousand Toriphiles, among them a twenty-something female who was brimming with enthusiasm as she anticipated the heady experience of her first Amos concert. We discussed our favorite songs before the lights went down (“Blood Roses” and “Sugar”) and we both were delighted when both were unexpectedly performed back to back midway through the show.

As is always the case, Amos was highly aware of her surroundings, and this was by far her first appearance at Music City’s mother church of country music. She shared with us how honored she felt to be playing her songs at the beloved venue and confided an anecdote of how her minister father has always wanted her to write songs about carrying out God’s will, at which she replied, “But dad, I do!” The crowd erupted into thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers as Amos segued into “Cool on Your Island” from her long out-of-print 1988 album, Y Kant Tori Read. The auditorium again became engulfed in a cloud of euphoric surprise as Amos broke into the chorus of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ classic “Islands in the Stream,” followed by a heart-wrenching cover of Parton’s “Jolene.”

The evening’s significant highlights included a technically enhanced version of “Cornflake Girl,” an endearing version of the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere,” and a thrilling 4-song encore including a haunting version of Depeche Mode’s “In Your Room.” The 2-hour set concluded with the sold-out crowd on its feet and applauding ferociously as the red-haired siren disappeared into the legendary stage’s wings.

Although I’d hardly converted my buddy into an Amos fan, the audience made up of Ears with Feet members of various ages appeared gratified. As for myself, I couldn’t have asked for a more satiating set list.

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