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February 27, 2003

Updated Sat, Mar 15, 2003 - 2:01am ET

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This man's a fan

By Jamie Perkins

What: Tori Amos with opener Rhett Miller
Where: The Whittemore Center Arena, 128 Main St., Durham.
When: Tuesday, March 4, 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $32.50
Contact: (603) 868-7300, and

So I was on my way home from work today, stuck in traffic and listening to NPR, my usual commuting companion. On the airwaves, our president proclaimed that we were indeed winning the war on terrorism. In juxtaposition, world leaders poised and pranced, commentators spoke sadly of tragedy and its aftermath, and protesters rallied to long, rigid, concrete walls of bureaucratic apathy.

I found myself dumbfounded by the men who run this planet, appalled at my own inability, and mesmerized by the sliver of history we are currently living through, a slice of self-analysis served up by terrorist pie. Seemed fitting that I was about to go home to work on this, a review of Tori Amos? latest album "Scarlet?s Walk."

Amos wrote this journal of encountered Americana while touring the United States after the 9/11 attacks. Written in the form of fables and parables about individuals and their lives, her lyrics could easily accommodate the greater themes of a country, psyche, and culture in various states of shock.

Let it be known that I am a total loser. It?s the evening of Valentine?s Day and this is what I?m thinking about. I have no one to share a night with on this evening meant to celebrate shared lives but a red headed, piano-playing chanteuse who doesn?t even know me, and, sadly, I?m pretty comfortable with that. After all, I?ve been a Tori Amos fan since her first album "Little Earthquakes," own all her CDs, seen her in concert twice (once, even, at the Whit) and I feel you should know this before you fall too far into the inherent melodrama of the introduction. Let it be known that I am indeed a Tori Amos fan, and let it not go unnoticed that this is a bold public statement for a straight man to make.

Sure, a conversation with Tori Amos may wield talk of elves, gnomes and fairies, but she has always been a deft painter of the human emotional landscape, and of the greater idealism of our fair nation. Her intensely personal lyrics are a mix of humor and disappointment, words like a sly, knowing look; the poetry of the disappointed prom date who?s still trying to salvage the evening. She may, at times, paint out of the lines, but oh, what a canvas.

Musically speaking, Amos has produced her most cohesive and mature work. Known for her eccentricities and rebellion, this former child prodigy (at age 11 she was expelled from the Peabody Conservatory after becoming, at age 5, its youngest inductee) has reined in her charismatic yet distracting quirks and come out focused, impassioned, and, thanks to the top-notch band this one-time solo performer began playing and recording with a few years ago, surprisingly fluid. Her sense of melody, which has always been inordinately strong and unusually fearless, has been streamlined, refined, and nurtured. Amos displays a discipline with her songwriting that she had previously shown with her piano playing, without losing the sense of adventurous musicianship and unique perspective that has earned her Grammy attention and a legion of loyal fans. The end result is that the songs, while being catchy and controlled, truly open themselves up to becoming the vehicle through which the lyrics can tell their story; the soundtrack under the stories of these frightening times.

This is simply Tori Amos? best album as a work, as a complete opus; a time capsule of terrorized souls as beacons for hope, faith and renewal, all wrapped in a slick piano-pop package.

The smoke lifts, the rubble clears. We can hunker down and buy plastic wrap and duct tape and listen to the Office of Homeland Security tell us how to stop, drop, and roll, but the real test of our battle with terrorism will come from how we choose to handle it emotionally as a culture. It?s about whether we become better people out of the ordeal, or, fear-stricken and frenzied, lose ourselves in the ensuing circus. Tori Amos seems to understand this, and puts it in a language palatable to the wounded soul. In the process she has created a rarity: an artistically relevant 9/11 response, a poetic map of our country and our lives with music as pretty as the landscape.

Jamie Perkins is a free-lance writer and the drummer for the bands STARCH and Stone Soup. He can be reached at

Posted by: Mikewhy

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