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San Diego Union-Tribune
December 16, 2002

Added January 9, 2003

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There was a review of Tori's December 13, 2002 concert in La Jolla, CA in the December 16, 2002 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read it below or online at

RIMAC's vacuum swallows Tori's sound

By Tiffany Lee-Youngren

Tori Amos is a velvet-seat kind of girl. A Copley Symphony Hall, Spreckels Theatre kind of girl, with intimate, sage-scented music deserving of friendly surroundings.

So why in the name of Jupiter did she book a performance amid the concrete and padded benches of UCSD's RIMAC Arena?

Looks like this is one musical siren lured by the prospect of big ticket sales (and she got 'em - the 5,000 capacity venue looked to be sold out). But no matter how hard Amos tried Friday night (and judging from her aloof rapport with the audience, she didn't try especially hard), nothing could detract from RIMAC's barn-like ambience and miserable sound.

After an opening set by Maine's Howie Day, Amos danced onstage and bowed to the sold-out audience like a Bacchanalian goddess. Clothed in a light-colored, flowing dress she sashayed to two center-stage pianos, and with drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans struck up the first tinkling notes of "a sorta fairytale," from "Scarlet's Walk." It amounted to one of the show's best numbers, matched only by haunting renditions of "Crucify," "Cornflake Girl" and Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat." But RIMAC's notoriously poor acoustics and an awful sound mix rendered most of Amos' vocals fuzzy and high-pitched (those in the bleachers closest to the stage had it worst off - from there, more than one song was distorted to the point of being unrecognizable). Without the power of her voice to spearhead them, too many of Amos' songs evaporated into empty atmospherics, made worse by a rhythm section that was tight but often rote and sterile.

The concert fared no better visually. Without a single camera to capture her expressive face, watching Amos was like watching a flower bloom from a window five stories up. One had the vague awareness there was something beautiful going on below, but no amount of squinting could bring that fluttering blur into focus. Concert-goers lucky enough to have a seat on the floor might have caught a glimpse of Amos' lip curled mid-growl as she writhed and keened, straddling the piano bench, but from any other perspective, the artist seemed distant and unreachable. Many a fan must have wondered why they shelled out nearly $40 to come no closer to "knowing" Amos than they would have sitting at home on a fuzzy rug, listening to her albums.

Amos might have instilled some personality into her show with a little audience-banter, but this subdued crowd didn't get much more than a whispered "hi" and a few offhanded remarks about the last tour. The performer's goodbye was the worst offense - her wordless, cutesy finger-waves were unforgivably patronizing, especially for fans who had sat patiently through a 20-song set and two encores of thick, muddy sound.

Show opener Howie Day's set also suffered from RIMAC's killing acoustics. Day, who has one album to his credit ("Australia"), manipulated a guitar and a mess of effects pedals to create, record and loop music before the audiences' very eyes. Percussion was tapped out onto the wood of his guitar, sampled, and looped back into the mix. With his tower of sound completed, Day would step back, wipe his brow and let the machines do the work. The effect was mesmerizing and disconcerting all at once, but more troubling were Day's vocals - a breathless, ill-advised cross between Bono, George Michael and John Cougar Mellencamp, they failed to bring any depth to lyrics as hackneyed as maybe I'll hold my breath and you'll be gone.

And maybe, if we all hold our breath, RIMAC will transform into a venue capable of hosting a decent show.

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