Amanda Palmer @ Liquid Room, Edinburgh, 27 Oct
It can only be a credit to the artist if there is, quite literally, no room to move in the crowd. Some even need to step out to breathe; if we’re not exceeding Liquid Room’s health and safety capacity, we’re certainly testing it. The prolific, industrious, incendiary artist that is Amanda Palmer has – for all her occasional courting of controversy – a one-of-a-kind zealous following, thanks to her notoriously autonomous and direct approach to her music and her fans. (Earlier this afternoon she staged a ‘ukulele flashmob’ via Twitter in Princes Street Gardens. Of course.)
Tonight she’s playing largely from imminent release Piano is Evil, a hastily recorded album (“three of my fingers have bleeding cuts and two of my fingers have blisters from the five days of recording. piano IS evil,” she writes on her website) featuring piano-only versions of her 2012 Kickstarter-funded record Theatre is Evil. The result is an intimate three hours (“wine, piano and friends”) of enchanting, heart-gilding music with heaps of witty and poignant storytelling.
The Piano is Evil tracks are, no doubt, stripped down and beautiful – Bottomfeeder, Trout Heart Replica, and Berlin were already hauntingly moving, but reducing them to just Palmer on keys takes them to another level. Throw in a requested Dresden Dolls throwback like Half Jack (“’Cause I’m not big enough to house this crowd,” she sings, perhaps knowingly) and you’ve got 200 warm bodies collectively moved to tears. Fortunately the night is much more than just some simple songs: there are even special guests, and not all of them musical.
Californian singer Whitney Moses joins Palmer for a cover of Paperback Writer, and moustachioed Aussie Brendan Maclean emerges from the mist for a ghostly, twinkling rendition of Bat for Lashes’ Laura. But the real wildcard is poetry-cabaret Rally & Broad co-founder (and BBC Scotland’s first poet-in-residence) Rachel McCrum, stepping up to lay down the empowering verses of The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate. The singer saw her perform at a party at Chris Cunningham’s house and asked her to come to the gig; who’d say no to Amanda Fucking Palmer?
Her encore is, perhaps inevitably, on ukulele – and she ends with Ukulele Anthem, imploring us to “stop pretending art is hard”, the safety net of her diehard fans catching her when she forgets the words. That’s what tonight feels like: a safety net, made of a community united by the music, knitted so tight there’s no way anyone here could fall.