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Providence Journal
November 18, 2002

Added November 23, 2002

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A review of Tori's November 17th show in Providence, RI appeared in the November 18, 2002 edition of The Providence Journal. Thanks to Grianne and Woj and for making me aware of it.

Storyteller reveals her emotional journeys

Journal Pop Music Writer

PROVIDENCE -- Pianist and singer Tori Amos writes songs that play out as stories scrawled in loose-leaf notebooks, then left opened to the tough parts. Amos is fueled by cloudbursts of emotional angst. She lingers on its cause only long enough to detail the consequence to follow. Like an Alice Sebold novel, Amos's delivery is a bracing plain speak. Her themes, from psychological abuse to physical abandonment, can be as tough to hear as they were for her protagonists to endure.

Last night she held down a sterling set of those songs in a sold-out concert at the Providence Performing Arts Center. The sellout crowd was a statement itself; you don't hear Amos's latest songs all over the radio anymore. But she's a populist poet nonetheless, speaking on what others don't.

"Figures that my courage would choose to sell out now," she sang in "Crucify."

The character of that song loathes self-consciousness. Amos performed that song with the house lights on the audience; the point was that this was group healing.

Performing solo at the piano, she was a one-on-one storyteller, chronicling bad relationships and shattered and sheltered lives. She moved from cheerful to cheerless in the space of a piano line.

As a songwriter-pianist, she is tethered to her piano. Still, she managed to expand the meaning of songs with expressions. She made over-the-shoulder glances, playful and suggestive. At one point she straddled the piano bench, playing piano with her right hand, and separately a keyboard with her left.

The point was that Amos plans to tackle every role, the seeker and the fulfilled.

When a bassist and drummer completed her trio, Amos's group played as the pendular opposite of the soloist. She was as bold and bad as she wanted to be. The trio setup allowed for some of the sonic experimentation of her latest disk, a concept album called Scarlet's Walk. On it, Amos portrays Scarlet, a woman who literally walks across America, after Sept. 11, to hear its stories. The trio played songs pulled from different regions, funky Austin, Tex., blues to foot-stomping Western swing on "Wednesday."

As always, the lyrics, ill-tempered and patriotic on Amos's terms, woke up the songs. "You give me yours, I'll give you mine," she sang. "Cause I can look your God right in the eye."

Pop vocalists of the 1930s and '40s sang love songs dabbed with piano jazz, and Amos is a musical heiress of that style. Except you can't call her explosive storytelling and piano work, which drops crashing improv bombs like little earthquakes, simply torch songs. Amos is a scorch-song balladeer.

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