Review: Amanda Palmer at the Highline Ballroom, June 5, New York City

The audience of 250 hung on every word and musical note as a monsoon raged outside in the "what's next?" late May climate.
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Earlier this week, Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman presented a joint spoken word and musical performance at Soho's Housing Works Café as part of the SPIN Liner Notes series, which pairs writers and musicians together to promote reading and raises money for the Housing Works Foundation supporting New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS. The room (which is small, deliciously crammed with books, and reminiscent of an old library in the very best sense) was sold out completely with people practically hanging from the rafters. The audience of 250 hung on every word and musical note as a monsoon raged outside in the what's-next late May climate.

Palmer told the throng about her years as a living statue in Harvard Square, where she appeared as The Eight Foot Bride and stood tall, white, and silent, accepting flowers and money from the teeming mass of humanity that came through the square. This presaged her creating the Brechtian punk cabaret team The Dresden Dolls with multi-instrumentalist Brian Viglione, touring the world and creating much magic.

Fast forward quickly to September 2008 and the release of Who Killed Amanda Palmer, Palmer's first solo album, produced by Ben Folds. She launched a tour with a group of outrageous, spectacular Australian performers called the Danger Ensemble, who worked for free, living on money received by passing the hat every night at gigs and staying at the homes of local fans in each city. The shows were gut-wrenching, theatrical, transcendent and I lucked into seeing one at New York's Webster Hall last fall. You know that feeling when you're sure you are in the right place at the right time? It doesn't happen all that often. That's how I felt that night.

Ms. Palmer took to the stage last night at the Highline Ballroom in New York, a vastly different room than the baroque Webster Hall, sleek and streamlined and very kind of Clockwork Orange. She was all Peter Pan come to life as she began the show strumming a ukulele, perched in the upper balcony. The sold out crowd went silent, heads craning up. Back to the stage, she pounded that piano like a postmodern Jerry Lee Lewis, and coaxed sweetness, joy and sorrow out of it. I managed to drag three Amanda virgins with me to the show; all left believers.

This was not the show I saw last year, which alternately ripped open my soul and made me giddy with glee, but it firmly established AFP (as she calls herself - Amanda Fucking Palmer) as a veritable force of nature. Great beauty ballads from WKAP like Ampersand, Runs in the Family, and Astronaut were delivered to us whole and seething, along with fun covers like Yakety Yak.

The show, which can teeter on almost too much intensity at times, is tempered halfway through by the Ask Amanda segment in which AFP takes random written questions from audience members. This particular night we also had a birthday singalong for Amanda's longtime comrade / photographer / aide de camp Beth Hommel.

Towards the end, Emily Brodsky and opening band The Lisps joined AFP on stage for a rousing version of Delilah, a Dresden Dolls number about a girl who seems to enjoy being abused in a bad relationship. Much of Palmer's work is about women in the grip of such badness who can't seem to find a way out.

The show ended with a sweet duet between Amanda's way cool dad, Jack Palmer, and his daughter on Leonard Cohen's tragic love ballad One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong. And yet another night in Palmer's presence convinces me once again that, a year from now, I'll be saying, yes I was there when you could still get tickets easily to see her and you could still see her in small places. Because this extremely talented goddess angel is going to be around a long time. And it's not always going to be this easy to see her.

Read more of Holly Cara Price's ruminations on the slings and arrows of outrageous pop culture at Snoop* Du Jour.

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