Amanda Palmer at Fringe Festival: Review

Review by Chris McCall | 23 Aug 2009
  • Amanda Palmer

You can call Amanda Palmer many things; an extrovert, a talented pianist, a chronicler of female anguish and despair, a wise-cracking performer. She’s certainly all of these things and more. But don’t ever call her a goth. She famously labelled the Dresden Dolls, the band she started with Brian Viglione, as "Brechtian cabaret punk" as she was “terrified” the press would invent a name for them that would involve the word “gothic.”

Now, certain sections of the music press might lack imagination, but it would take a particularly narrow-minded hack to simply tag Palmer as another bastard child of Robert Smith. Sure, there are some hallmarks – her songs are largely self-obsessed tales about sex, awkwardness and the general plight of being a rugged individualist. But Palmer never wallows in self-pity; her songs are inventive, playful and genuinely funny. Take 'Coin Operated Boy' as an example: "Made of plastic and elastic, he is rugged and long lasting, who could ever ask for more, love without complications galore."

Palmer is a striking, confident performer. She plays the majority of her two hour set tonight solo, with only an electronic piano for company, but she never wavers once, and the packed Picture House audience hangs on her every word. The loudest cheers of the evening are reserved for Dresden Dolls material, but such is Palmer’s engrossing performance technique that every song, from her solo material to brand new compositions, is a near delight. She crashes keys, she plays deliberately out-of-tune and she thinks nothing of stopping songs at inopportune moments – but only ever to add greater effect to her performance.

You almost feel a tingle of disappointment when various friends and family members are wheeled out to perform with Palmer. She’s joined by English indie-types The Indelicates for a few numbers, but these full-band efforts seem under-rehearsed and rushed. Palmer is renowned for helping out other artists and all credit to her for doing so, but it seems too much to offer them her stage when they can’t even keep time with her songs.

But in the grand scheme of tonight’s gig, this is a minor disappointment in an otherwise splendid evening of entertainment. Palmer might not wish to be branded a goth, but given the strength of her performance and the quality of her songs, it’s definitely fair to label her a star.


Amanda Palmer: HMV Picturehouse, August 23.