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Amos marathon too much of a good thing
Despite an overlong show, she leaves fans waiting for the hits.
By JEFF MILLER
Special to the Register
When Tori Amos last played Southern California in December, she headlined a two-night stand at the Universal Amphitheater, a seemingly perfect venue for Amos' high-flying, personal piano compositions. Instead of taking advantage of the venue's intimacy (and the material on her recent "Scarlet's Walk") her shows there were full of overwrought emotions and "true-fan-only" b-sides, the kind of performance that makes nonbelievers out of passive fans and gives a formerly mainstream artist over to permanent cult status.
It only stood to reason, then, that Amos would continue following that path to irrelevancy as she returned this weekend to play at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. Even in the arena's half-sized "theater" configuration, the Pond is imposing - if Amos overplayed at the smaller amphitheater, it would only make sense for her to pummel her piano at the Pond, the better for the people with binoculars in the back to see that she was playing.
But, surprisingly, Amos showed considerable restraint instead, drawing the audience in with more-muted renditions of hits such as "God" and new album tracks such as the ragtime-to-waltz blitz of "Wednesday" ("Scarlet's Walk's" most successful Americana track.)
Amos' tour mates and longtime collaborators, bassist Jon Evans and drummer Matt Chamberlain, appreciated the wide-open spaces in her compositions, compensating for her reticence with tasteful, appropriate fills and down-under grooves, never purposefully taking over the spotlight but helping Amos move through the more complex sections of her songs. It's notable that during a three-song solo segment in the middle of the set, Amos seemed a bit more tense; even her solid version of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat" would have been more successful with her rhythm section giving it a little added push.
Though Amos' arrangements showed restraint, her set list did not. At almost 2 1/2 hours, her marathon of songs tested the endurance of even the most devoted fans; many of those who didn't rush the stage before the encore were busy heading toward the exits. They had a point, though the song selection at the Pond was more hit-heavy than the Universal stop.
Amos' material often gets repetitive, and, now that she's a mother, her once overtly sexual stage presence has become much more muted. Lighting director Daniel Boland compensates for the material's stasis with always-moving seas of deep-red and sky-blue, but even he seemed to run out of ideas by the end of the show (using the nowhere-near-full arena as a canvas couldn't have helped him - his attempts at showcasing the audience embarrassingly revealed wide-open sections of seats.)
At first glance, opener Rhett Miller's poppy, country-influenced songs didn't seem like quite the right match for Amos' moodier ballads. But in his short, all-solo set, Miller showed that he does have much in common with Amos: Like her, he's a serious talent who's often given more credit for sexiness than songwriting. Though his guy-with-a-guitar set works much better at a small club, Miller was game to translate it to a larger setting, shaking his hips and knocking his knees while he reached for the high notes in songs from his band, the Old 97s, and solo material such as "Come Around." Even though Miller made a crack about the Mighty Ducks (he's a staunch fan of the Dallas Stars), Amos fans appreciated Miller's amiable presence; he provided a fun balance to Amos' all-business demeanor.