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AMANDA PALMER & THE GRAND THEFT ORCHESTRA @ THE RITZ, MANCHESTER 11/07/13 – REVIEW BY MELANIE SMITH

 
Amanda Palmer, from the punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, is in town tonight, and incredibly its the first time I have witnessed her perform. The tour is in support of her new album “Theatre Is Evil”, funded by “Kickstarter” the online crowd funding site, which has controversially managed to secure Palmer 24,883 backers so far, with a grand total of $1,192,793.

Although the theatrical grandeur of the Ritz, with its circle balcony and musical history is the perfect venue for a show of this calibre, everyone is melting, as its sweltering hot before the show even begins. However as we await the support, the statuesque Amanda suddenly surprises us and appears amidst her fans, perched on the balcony, with just her magical ukulele. Wearing a Japanese kimono and to a ukulele twang Radioheads ‘Creep’ she hits the notes. The crowd lap it up and sing along, with smiles and laughter across the room. It’s a grand gesture, and feels so special and personal. From this moment on you sense that tonight is going to fabulously decadent, with lots of theatrical meanderings.

 

Beaming with smiles, she personally introduces us to her first act, the super cool, suave, and glamorously tuxedoed Jherek Bischoff, looking like he’d just stepped out of a classic 50’s movie, He’s no showroom dummy though; he is the excellent bass and Ukulele musician, (plays bass with The Grand Theft Orchestra). Jherek entertained us for around 15 minutes with his simplistic sound, relaxed and modest, charming everyone with his unique performance.

 

Amanda then appears on stage, drink in hand, and engages in some banter with the audience, and introduces the heaving masses to her next guests, who are more upbeat. Chad Raines (lead guitarist) and Jessie England (keys), known collectively as Simple Pleasure. The music is a throw back to the 80’s with very simple electro pop beats. Chad throws a few shapes around the dance floor, prompting a few whoops from the audience, but its all in good fun. It’s a bit bizarre when Chad suddenly strips off his drab shirt and tie, from behind a curtain to reveal a very glittering guitar thrusting rock god, in sequinned leggings and jacket. A highly entertaining 15 minutes, it was great to see lots of tongue in cheek humour.

 

Next up are a male/ female duo from Brighton, named Bitter Ruin, individually they are Georgia Train and Ben Richards. Simple Pleasure was a hard act to follow, and these were so different. Performing only the one song ‘Trust’, with just an acoustic guitar, its got a haunting quality, with Spanish guitar strains. However its pretty diverse, a bit tense and dramatic. Georgia has an very unusual voice, a bit like Kate Bush, with elements of folk, soul and theatrics. Together they have a spellbinding chemistry, with passion and intensity its such a shame we didn’t get more. I definitely want to hear more of their music.

Finally it’s time for Amanda Palmer and her Grand Theft Orchestra to be in the spotlight. From the off it’s an explosive start, striding out wearing a black bra, a laced up corset which depicts the face of ‘Klaus Nomi’ (German eccentric theatrical performer), and maroon cords, with a big ‘YES’ slogan daubed on her chest and warpaint stripes on her face. Chad Raines, Jherek Bischoff rejoin Amanda as part of her band, with Thor Harris on drums.

There isn’t much of a warm up, and its bang into a crowd invasion. Amanda heads straight for the barrier, singing eagerly into a sea of faces, climbs in, to be swallowed up by the loving masses that are eager to touch and get close. ‘Do it With A Rockstar’ seems an apt title for the frenzied goings on down the front, and this woman surely is one hell of a rock star. She has them eating out of the palm of her hand, it’s very much a hero worship moment, and Amanda too appears lost in time and space, as she becomes entangled with her audience.

 

Early doors and she is soaked to the skin, sweat dripping from every pore, but she does calm down for a period and do some solo pieces on the keyboard, even though she is rooted to the spot, she still gives them some gusto. We hear the full tale of the ‘Daily Mail’, and what she thinks of them (they posted a photo of her exposing a breast as she was performing at Glastonbury), big deal you can see her naked all over the net she tells us…. “Dear Daily Mail, up yours”. Much applause from the loving fans.

Amanda can’t resist getting close to her fans again and we have another crowd invasion and this time she goes the entire length of the venue, front to back, being carried full length, hands everywhere, continuing to sing along, with hardly a missed word. It’s spectacular viewing and she emerges unscathed, albeit sweating profusely, but not perturbed in the slightest. Georgia Train is welcomed back on stage, and performs a duo with Amanda on keyboards, with The Dresden Dolls ‘Delilah’. Two distinctive and different voices blending together perfectly, it proves to be riveting performance.

A couple of cover numbers are dusted down for the Palmer treatment, and they offer up The Smiths ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’, isn’t everyone a Smiths fan in Manchester? Seemingly not Oasis, or more to the point Liam Gallagher, the name brings a loud boo from the crowd. Amanda launches into relaying a tale of bumping into him backstage at Glastonbury. Another cover version comes out of the closet, as we hear Pulp’s ‘Common People’ which gets a breathe of fresh air. I’m not normally a fan of cover versions, but on this occasion I think she pulled it off, each were met with roaring approval and sing-alongs. 

Many of her songs are reflections of her experiences, but much like Emilie Autumn she manages to turn them in a kind of humour and they become almost beautiful melodramatic pop songs. Like ‘Oasis’, which if you listen purely to the lyrics are quite disturbing, but tonight the song reminds me of the poem/quote: “You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching, Love like you'll never be hurt, Sing like there's nobody listening, And live like it's heaven on earth.”. I guess that also sums up tonight’s performance for me too. Although there are moments of provocation and merriment, from her larger than life personality, there is also sensitivity as she makes no bones about the fact she does get affected by criticism.

The final encore brings the long (but fabulous) set to a close with a riveting performance of the 2004 Dresden Dolls track ‘Girl Anachronism’ and finally the Ukulele Anthem, the one with glowing praise for the Ukelele, …..(now if only I had a Ukelele)

After I’d taken photos in the pit I slipped to the back of the room, to take it all in, and make a few notes. I’d scrawled into my notebook, random statements, but three words summed it all up - FUN, FUN FUN! Watching an Amanda ‘fucking’ Palmer show is a fun and uplifting experience and it was everything and more I hoped it might be. I’ll definitely want to see further Palmer shows.

Setlist:

Creep (Radiohead cover)
Grand Theft Intermission
Do It With A Rockstar
The Killing Type
Want It Back
Missed Me (Dresden Dolls)
Oasis
Astronaut
Bottomfeeder
Delilah (with Georgia)
Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want (The Smiths cover)
Bed Song
Map Of Tasmania
Bigger On The Inside
Lost
Common People (Pulp cover)
Leeds United

Encore:

Girl Anachronism (Dresden Dolls)
Ukulele Anthem

Review and photos by Melanie Smith (All photos)