As the ancient proverb goes, time flies when you’re releasing concept albums. And time has certainly flown since Tori Amos first relocated to London from the United States and released her debut solo single in the UK. Twenty years ago last month, in fact.
The song in question was Me And A Gun, a harrowing autobiographical re-telling of how Amos was raped in Los Angeles in her early 20s, sung entirely a-capella and recorded with London-based producer, Ian Stanley.
Back in 1991, so the story goes, Atlantic Records could not see the material which Amos had recorded for her debut album, Little Earthquakes, as having commercial appeal for the American market. Instead, they thought that the label’s then English sibling, East West, could potentially do something with the record across the pond. And so, from her base in a South Kensington flat, Tori Amos tried to break the music business and, as luck would have it, succeeded. Little Earthquakes and follow-up, Under The Pink, established her as a household name.
In the past decade, Amos has released several elaborate concept records which, when compared with her 1990s output, have come close to but rarely broken new ground for the singer-songwriter. With this year’s classical album, Night Of Hunters, however, she seems to have returned to form.
It was fitting that for this 20 year sort-of-anniversary, Tori Amos came back to one of her favourite London venues, Hammersmith Apollo. It also just happens to be down the road from where Amos first lived when she moved here in 1991.
This was Amos’ second London show of the week, having taken her new tour to the Royal Albert Hall first on Wednesday night. Accompanied by the Apollon Musagete Quartet on strings, she played a particularly fan-friendly, career-spanning, concert. Opening with the astonishing Shattering Sea, which is also the first track on Night of Hunters, Amos and the string fellows took an already attention-grabbing song and made it even punchier.
A solo rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide then gave the quartet a short break before returning to accompany Amos on a striking reinterpretation of Suede, from the 1999 album, To Venus And Back. Noticeably missing from Suede was the “little sister” section of the studio version but with Amos immediately following it up with a rare treat – a live performance of old b-side, Ode To The Banana King Part I – it would be rude to be pedantic.
Another track which Amos originally recorded with Ian Stanley when she first moved to London was China, later her third single release from Little Earthquakes. Last night’s performance of it was captivating. Other highlight moments included solo performances of A Sorta Fairytale, Never Seen Blue and That Guy, a beautifully-chorused album track from Amos’ 2009 release, Abnormally Attracted To Sin.
With Apollon Musagete, the 10-minute long Star Whisperer was hypnotic and the honky-tonk Big Wheel underwent a brilliant transformation so that, devoid of its guitar content, it became a thrilling set-closer, with the quartet and the audience interacting with Amos on the 8-to-3 countdown section of the song, as well as the call-and-reply funtimes of “I-I-I am a M-I-L-F”/ “Don’t you forget”.
But the best and most thrilling song of the night was Cruel, on which Apollon Musagete not only played strings but also re-created the track’s rhythm section percussively with their instruments, giving it a dark and menacing edge.
This really was a standing-ovation kind of show.
You can watch a fan-recording video of Tori’s performance of Baker Baker from last night here.