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Orange County Register
December 19, 2002

Added January 9, 2003

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There was a review of Tori's December 17, 2002 concert in Los Angeles, CA in the December 19, 2002 edition of the Orange County Register. You can read it below or online at

Amos as moving as she is confusing
The singer takes the devoted on an amazing journey - or does she? - in a show long on talent and bafflement.

The Orange County Register

It's Tuesday, pushing midnight. We've just endured more than two hours of Tori Amos at the Universal Amphitheatre, which, depending on your disposition, is either heaven or hell but never somewhere between.

And the debate begins.

"I don't know," I say. "I expected more of a journey, to carry us along the way the new album does. It was there for a while, I think. I'm not sure how 'Cornflake Girl' fit. 'Wednesday' connected a few dots. But by the end I wasn't sure where we were."

"No, you're wrong," Bill tells me. "The journey was there. When that lighted Roadside Caf sign came down and she went into 'China' without the band, it really hit me - the journey has always been there, in all of her albums. They're all essentially journeying to the heart and soul of the American identity, just through various guises."

He points out proof from the evening's offerings: the conflicted Christian of "Precious Things," the self-explanatory "Playboy Mommy," the scenes from a marriage in "Lust," all of which, he believes, are less autobiography than portraiture. I still don't see how "Cornflake Girl" fits but start imagining how some she didn't play would have - only, my picks are religious and political, like "God" or "Muhammed My Friend."

Maybe you don't have conversations like this outside of academic halls. I have them all the time. Pretentious? You catch on quick.

I mention Bill's reaction because he's a more learned Toriphile than I am, very much like the bulk of this capacity crowd, which sat reverentially when Amos sang - and after each song would erupt into ecstasy as if Lennon had risen from the dead before their eyes.

I also mention his take because something tells me it's closer to whatever truth she was hoping to make about soul-searching these days.

See, a decade on, I'm still mystified by Tori. Like a few others, I hope, I was a big fan when her still-startling debut, "Little Earthquakes," first trembled, a little less so after "Under the Pink," a lot less so after "Boys for Pele," a whole lot more after the gripping, revealing "From the Choirgirl Hotel." Now, however, after scrutinizing her latest - "Scarlet's Walk," a colorful, compassionate collage of everyday misfits inspired by a stateside tour she undertook shortly after Sept. 11 - her impenetrability has left me cold. I greatly admire her talent; I don't play her records.

Yet despite my misgivings, Amos' show Tuesday night was by far the most satisfying I've seen of nearly a half-dozen. She has matured, much for the better. Her playfulness, her smoldering seductiveness? Still present, at the core of her mystique, but now it's well-channeled, not overrun by coquettishness. Her off-kilter phrasing, always a nuisance in concert, finally came correct; she's dropped that annoying habit of over emphasizing syllables, which may leave her conventional but adds fluidity.

Better still, she's discovered the ideal musical complement. The siren-at-her-piano routine only works in a small venue (even the Wiltern is too large), while a full-force band tends to tread upon her delicacies. Here, backed by bassist John Evans and unerring drummer Matt Chamberlain, her right hand dappling flowery fills while her left hand delivered raw carnality, her songs achieved an enveloping languidness countered by a stinging potency uncommon beyond her recordings.

What's more, locking her into jazzy Joni Mitchell-y rhythms forced her to focus her singing, which has never been so remarkably varied, so wizened, shifting from lofty and lovely to menacing and volatile without resorting to easy come-hither tricks.

All of which has me wondering if I didn't miss something that would have tied this together. Somewhere after the sad stateliness of "Your Cloud" and "I Can't See New York" I started to drift, thinking back to the Indians of "Sweet Sangria" and "Pancake," wondering when "Amber Waves" or "Mrs. Jesus" might turn up (neither did) and trying to figure how "Concertina" clicked into this puzzle. I don't have answers. Only visions of a cheap high-school set design, a costume stolen from Stevie Nicks and some powerfully moving music.

I left amused but confused, wishing for once she would have told the audience strange stories (she didn't) to help fill in the blanks. But maybe her silence was intentional. Maybe "Wednesday," for me the focal point, says it all: "Can someone help me? / I think that I'm lost here / Lost in a place / Called America."

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