On December 19, 2005, a review of Tori Amos: The Original Bootlegs (the entire box set) was posted to the online e-zine Wears The Trousers. The box set was given 4.5 stars. You can read the review at www.thetrousers.co.uk. Thanks to Rabih for emailing The Dent about this.
You can also read the review below, but it is better if you read it at www.thetrousers.co.uk.
The Original Bootlegs
Should anyone have any doubts about what a commanding and provocative artist Tori Amos remains, they will surely be put to rest by these officially sanctioned "bootlegs". Recorded during this year's solo Original Sinsuality and Summer Of Sin tours, five of these double CDs were initially released exclusively online, and have now been packaged together as a comprehensive boxset (along with an extra bonus 2CD recording), offering yet another fix for Amos' followers. Indeed, 2005 has been an amazingly fertile year for Amos artistically. With another brilliant studio album in The Beekeeper, an absorbing and stylistically innovative memoir in Piece By Piece, and now these releases, she's in danger of spoiling us rotten. On these discs, culled from dates in LA, Chicago, Denver, Manchester, London and Boston, we find her singing (better than ever) songs both old and new, rarities and a series of creative covers - sufficient material to keep both die-hard enthusiasts and recent converts occupied for months. If you were at these shows (and surely not even Amos's most devoted fans could have attended all of them) then these CDs offer a wonderful memento of some amazing musical moments. If you weren't, it's a chance to catch up on some of what you missed and to savour the enthralling experience that is Amos's live show.
As skilful as she has been at integrating other instruments into her music over the years, there remains something ineffably magical about Amos performing solo; the only time she shares the spotlight here is when she's joined in quite spectacular fashion by the a six-piece gospel choir in London. With just piano, Rhodes and Hammond B3 organ to accompany her sinuous vocals, she's at her most riveting, her ability to command an audience second to none. But is it any wonder that she's so accomplished? Lest we forget, this self-confessed "road dog" has been performing for audiences since she was a teenager, and there's a nice nod to those apprentice years in the 'Piano Bar' segments featured here, in which she performs her pick of the songs requested by fans via her website.
Among those receiving the Amos treatment are tracks by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Oasis, Bonnie Tyler, George Michael, Bon Jovi and Aerosmith (yes, really!), so it's just as well that she has such a strong personality as a performer, and such finely-honed interpretive skills, that she stamps her distinctive mark on every one. "This could really be crap," she warns before delivering a decidedly non-crap version of A Flock Of Seagulls' I Ran. Particularly gorgeous are her takes on Jim Croce's Operator, where she captures beautifully the combined bravado and vulnerability of the narrator, and Like A Prayer, which she invests with more genuine sexual and spiritual fervour than Madonna could ever hope to muster. There's also some typically cherishable between- song banter in these Piano Bar interludes, including one already notorious diatribe. Who but Amos would have the chutzpah to lob some very descriptive insults at Morrissey in front of an audience of Mancunians? It's one of many reasons to love her.
Another reason is that she's amassed a back catalogue that ranks among the greatest in contemporary music, and which provides a very rich resource for her to mine in live performances. Aside from her undebatable instrumental prowess, Amos has always been a terrific writer of songs that can be equal parts tender and savage, raw and healing, sad and sensual, and both her oldest and newest material gets a workout here. Highlights from her own repertoire include Little Amsterdam, sounding spookier than ever with its organ accompaniment; the baroquely beautiful Yes, Anastasia; the startling Father Lucifer; the buoyant Take To The Sky; the ever-green Winter, Silent All These Years and Tear In Your Hand; and the majestic Cool On Your Island. It's fascinating, too, to hear new songs such as Sweet The Sting and The Power Of Orange Knickers stripped down to just keyboard and voice, and in the process sounding more themselves than ever. It should be noted that there is, inevitably, quite a bit of repetition of material over the discs. Original Sinsuality kicks off every show, and we get several Jamaica Inns, Space Dogs and Parasols when we might wish for a Pretty Good Year or a Northern Lad. But, as Amos would no doubt argue, Parasol in Chicago on April 15th is not Parasol in Denver on April 19th, and the duplication of material does offer a valuable opportunity to compare different versions. Amos is such a spontaneous, in-the-moment performer that she never delivers identikit readings of her songs anyway, and the chance for listeners to play "compare and contrast" is one of the many pleasures offered here. Collectively then, these discs further demonstrate Amos's sheer mastery of her art. From first note to last, you're confronted with the slightly overwhelming sensation of hearing a performer at the very peak of her powers. While some critics continue to recycle tired complaints about "abstruse" lyrics and "excessive" ambition, Amos just gets on with making some of the most adventurous, intelligent and extraordinary music out there. Long may she continue.
- Alex Ramon