Monday, December 8, 2008

The Hand that Feeds Amanda Palmer--Part II

Okay, so I needed some time to catch up on work and wanted to wait until we had all our audio-visual material uploaded, so that I can provide suitable examples, but now I can tell you all about The Coolest Thing the Places Parallel Girls Have Ever Done, Seriously.

So, on Wednesday, December 3rd, I weaseled my way out of work early, and Iris and I packed up all the food (in our Glad family of products...I felt just like a contestant on Bravo's Top Chef!) and a crock pot, just in case the Metro was poorly equipped, and we set off in a light but traffic-jamming snowfall to the Metro on Clark Street in Chicago.

Now, the Metro is located very near Wrigley Field, which is a notoriously rotten area to look for any sort of parking, but we were very fortunate to find an open meter just across the street from the venue. We were early, so we took to a bar for some liquid courage, as we were both feeling pretty nervous at this point.

But we arrived promptly at the doors of the Metro at 5:30, as requested. Steve, our contact, happened to be waiting outside, and he had us wait just inside the lobby for Kat, another member of the Danger Ensemble, who would escort us backstage.

The Metro is a tiny venue, so it's not surprising that the artists have a tiny area to themselves backstage. The walls are painted all black, and there is some curious decor:

All sorts of people were already backstage...including Amanda Palmer (gasp!) who was sitting in a recliner, being videotaped by someone. It was hard to tell who was who...performers, fans, etc., and to tell the truth, it was all pretty intimidating. Kat led us into a room that was loaded with food brought by fans, and I sheepishly realized that I could have probably gotten away with bringing hummus and pita. I asked her if there was any kind of microwave, and to my infinite disappointment, she said there was not. Seriously, Metro? You can get a microwave at Target for like $60. Kat assured us that it would be okay if the food were cold, but we strongly recommended that we go back to the car to get the crock pot and at least heat up the soup. But inwardly, I was fretting because the tacos would remain cold, and who really wants a cold veggie taco? In addition, although crock pots are very handy for keeping things warm, they're not exactly known for their speed in reheating things, so I then became The Girl Who Neurotically Fussed Over the Crock Pot for 90 Minutes. The only open space for said crock pot was right in front of a mini-fridge, so I was also The Girl Whose Fucking Crock Pot was in the Way of People's Cold Bottles of Water. Oh, why, I inwardly lamented, why didn't I just think to bring hummus and pita or sandwiches, like this guy Chuck who sat on a couch with his Sullen, Silent Female Companion? (Although I have to give props to Chuck for providing me with a ladle.)

The fans who provided food all sort of huddled together silently and terrified in a corner of the room. It was an awkward atmosphere, let me tell you, although it was also very interesting to be a fly on the wall backstage. I wish I could tell you that I was cool, but I'm not cool. I'm a total fucking dork, and when confronted by people I like and admire, my brain function decreases by a good 40%. When Amanda strolled by, doing her vocal exercises, my conversations with her were completely profound and scintillating, like this:

Me: So, did you get to enjoy Chicago at all today?
Amanda: No.

Amanda (lifting up lid of tacos): Mmmm, this smells good!
Me: Yes, they are veggie tacos.

(Note: I didn't actually see her consume any of my food, as she didn't want to be "too full" for the performance, which is understandable, especially since my food was very bean- and lentil-heavy.)

Nope, nope, nothing like "'Leeds United' is the most amazing song" or "The first Dresden Dolls album helped me survive a very difficult time in my life" (cheesy, but true) or any of the things I'd actually want to say if I were theoretically to encounter Amanda Palmer.

Also, she was doing warm-up exercises and flitting around here and there, and although we probably could have made her pose for pics or do silly videos, and I'm sure in her extreme generosity, she would have gladly obliged, but Iris and I were both struck by the desire to let her prepare for the show and relax in peace. So our documentation of our time backstage is, unfortunately, limited to some pics we took on the sly:

Although dreadful performance art group, Pony Spread, kindly posed for a picture with us. (I'm sure they're wonderful people beyond their dreadful performance art):

But Iris did get a chance to present Amanda with a t-shirt that she had made for her. As you may know, Amanda's had some problems with her record label lately. Among other issues, they criticized the appearance of Amanda's TOTALLY not fat stomach in the "Leeds United" video, sparking the online "Rebellyon," wherein fans have been posting pictures of their own less-than-whippet-taut bellies as a "fuck you" to the execs at Roadrunner Records. Anyway, in one of Amanda's blog posts, in response to the controversy, she threatened the life of a My Little Pony. Therefore, in Iris' t-shirt, the ponies get their revenge.

Amanda was delighted with the shirt and started showing it off to people, whereupon Iris' head exploded with joy, which was a little messy, but it was worth it.

So they had us hanging out awkwardly backstage for about 90 minutes, and then they informed us that it was time for the show! Now here comes the glowing part of this review. I mean, I'm not a professional rock critic, so I basically pay money to see the artists that I like, and more often than not, I like it. So the haters can suck my metaphorical balls if they're not happy to hear that this show fucking rocked our faces off!

First up were The Builders and the Butchers. It takes a very special opening band to get me enthused, as many times I view opening bands as my punishment for arriving early. But this indie group from Portland, Oregon, is more than up to the task, with their heavy percussion, use of eclectic instruments (banjo, accordion, mandolin, etc.), audience participation (at one point, the lead singer passed out maracas and tambourines, so that audience members could play along), and infectious melodies. A lot of reviewers label their music as "dark folk" or "reminiscent of gospel," but it reminded me a lot of Irish rock, like Flogging Molly, but without the accents.

This is one of the few times that an opening band had me enjoying every note, as opposed to checking my watch and shifting my weight from my left to right foot, killing time before the opening act. I wish that their set wasn't so short, and I'm looking forward to their next appearance in the Windy City.

Next up was the amazing solo cellist, Zoe Keating. This woman is extremely coordinated, as she handled all the pre-recorded parts on her laptop herself during her performance. Her music is like the most mesmerizing, mournful soundtrack to all the movies in your head:

Zoe Keating is an amazing musician, with incredible poise, even when her computer crashes on her. ANOTHER opening artist that I didn't want to see leave the stage.

Then...we had Pony Spread. Like I said, I'm sure they're nice folks, and maybe it's just my personal bias against some of the more esoteric forms of expression, but I HATE HATE HATE the performance art segments of Dresden Dolls/Amanda Palmer shows. They had a Christmas-themed performance for us during which impish reindeer simulated masturbation, Santa was crucified, a girl was persecuted by women dressed like the Virgin Mary(?), the reindeer and the Virgin Marys attempted to force Santa to rape the girl, but they were thwarted by a woman dressed all in black who was the girl's true love or something, and Santa blessed their relationship, and it all ended happily ever after or some shit. I mean, I guess I just wish it wasn't so cliched...I mean, crucifying Santa? Zzzzzzzzzzz...give me more Zoe Keating.

Next, we had...oh NEIL FUCKING GAIMAN read a "eulogy" for Amanda Palmer IN PERSON. NEIL FUCKING GAIMAN! Apparently, he and Amanda are working on a book together to accompany the whole "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?" murder mystery that I couldn't keep up with online. Hopefully it will all show up in the book, and we'll know who killed her in the end too.

Amanda came onstage in her usual dramatic fashion and opened with the infinitely awesome "Astronaut." Seriously, I'm, like, fucking OBSESSED with this song these days. And watching the video again gives me goosebumps.

Onstage, she was accompanied by the Danger Ensemble, backup dancers and performance artists who do it right (take note, Pony Spread). They managed to be thought-provoking and convey their interpretation of the music without being obtrusive.

Pretty much anyone who's into the Dresden Dolls would enjoy Amanda's solo work, and she's never less than electrifying onstage, banging violently on her piano, her leg flying beneath her. I'm probably more of a fan of her uptempo songs: "Runs in the Family," "Guitar Hero," and the superb "Leeds United," all of which made an appearance in the setlist. The one songwriting weakness of Amanda Palmer, I'm afraid, is that she's got just a few too many songs that sound like this:

But I do enjoy the lyrics of "Ampersand":

"The ghetto boys are catcalling me
As I pull my keys from my pocket
I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective
Has any girl in history said 'Sure, you seem so nice, let's get it on'
Still, I always shock them when I answer, 'Hi, my name's Amanda'

And I'm not gonna live my life on one side of an ampersand
And even if I went with you, I'm not the girl you think I am
And I'm not gonna match you, 'cause I'll lose my voice completely
No, I'm just gonna watch you, 'cause I'm not the one that's crazy..."

Or maybe I'm the only one who identifies with that, in a way. Anyway.

One of my favorite songs of the evening was one co-written with Neil Gaiman: "I Google You," which is meant to be an Ella Fitzgerald/Frank Sinatra standard for the internet age. We've got a portion of this recorded, but unfortunately, our nemesis for the evening, a particularly zealous Metro security employee, kept zeroing in on Iris (despite the HUNDREDS of other people taking photos and videos) and forcing her to stop recording:

Because of Our Nemesis, we are not able to bring you video of the chilling ode to school shooting, "Strength Through Music," the rousing "Guitar Hero," the playful lip-synching to Rihannna's "Umbrella," or the climactic, infectious closer, "Leeds United, complete with horn section.

Amanda was available to sign merch after the show, but we eschewed the long lines and made our way backstage to get our coats, signed posters, crock pot, etc. During the whole show, I had been brooding about the culinary disappointment of the evening...that I couldn't even get my damn soup sufficiently reheated. But then! Like a Christmas miracle, when we stepped backstage, we could smell the delicious, comforting aroma of my soup in all its glory. The crock pot had finally brought the soup to its optium temperature, and I started getting all kinds of compliments! Kat from The Danger Ensemble enjoyed a bowl, and the horn section were *particular* fans. I felt so vindicated and overjoyed, I can't even tell you. I hope that Amanda and the gang got to enjoy the leftovers as well as heat up the tacos in their microwave on the bus because seriously, those are some upscale veggie tacos...made with tawny port!

One of the horn players kindly provided some video testimonial with regard to the awesomeness of my soup (of which he consumed multiple bowls), but unfortunately, he uses my real name in the video, so it's not going up here. But trust, was a success!

Iris and I left the Metro that night absolutely thrilled. We had had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cook for one of our favorite musicians, hang out backstage, and then see a kickass show that we'll always remember. So when the Amanda Palmer Experience rolls into your town, I can of course, recommend it, and I'd like to add that it's well worth it to bust out your wok, Cuisinart, baking pans, crock pot, what have you, to feed her as well.


Anonymous said...

Are those your new jeans?

Iris said...

Oh, man, I don't even know where to start with this show. It was all kinds of amazing!

There was the encore where she sang a rousing cover of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer". Amanda teased us after the first verse "Come on people. I think Detroit was even louder than that." The crowd was already pretty loud but after that comment the whole place erupted.

Several times backstage and a few times onstage Detroit was mentioned as The City That Should Not Be Named which I think had more to do with the venue and its employees than the audience. She said at one point in the night while she was singing "Blake Says" a boy in the audience got a little emotional and was crying which signified to the security team that he was being disorderly and he was removed from the show. Who knows what all the circumstances were but it kind of sounds like bullshit to me.

And yeah, "Leeds United" is the best shit EVER! It is my firm belief that Amanda should constantly be followed around with a brass section. I really wish I could have recorded some of it because the energy was through the roof but it probably wouldn't have turned out from all the screaming, foot stomping, and dancing. I just can't sit still through that song. Amanda may not have the big budget and huge techo-screens that TR sports but the girl still knows how to work a crowd into a frenzy. Oh and the sheet music for the horn players tickled me with the lyric cue of "sandwiches and blah blah blah" since I could never tell what Amanda was singing there either.

What else? Kat and Steven of the Danger Ensemble were the best. They were so down to Earth and Kat was like a doting mother making sure we all got to where we needed to go and/or make sure we had bracelets and passes to get back in the building for the smokers of the bunch.

We very briefly saw this guy who did Amanda and the rest of the crew's makeup for the evening. I remember Kat was raving about him after he finished hers. Lucky guy but man, oh, man we were a wreck just bringing food. I don't know how he maintained his composure to make everyone look so good.

I majorly clammed up when actually in Amanda's presence. I meant to ask her how her foot was doing because she had it in a cast while in Dublin. She'd posted to her blog that she forgot that cars come from the other direction on the other side of the pond and didn't look both ways and some poor girl ran over her foot. I also meant to thank Amanda in person about linking to our "Fight For Your Right" video back in January. And I wanted to ask her how her voice was feeling since having surgery earlier this year for nodes on her vocal cords. Yeah, I felt like I knew my AP stuff walking in but all of these thoughts fled from my mind the minute we stepped through the door.

maise said...

Those are indeed my new jeans, but I don't like the fit of them. If I followed Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, I'd have them tailored, but who the fuck has time for that?

Oh, and I forgot to mention two important backstage interactions after the show.

(Neil Gaiman walks by as I fuss with crock pot)
Me: Hi.
Neil: Hi.

(I encounter two members of The Builders and the Butchers while looking for the box we carried stuff in or napkins or something)

Me: You guys were really good tonight.
Lead singer guy: Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Who the H is Neil Gaiman?

maise said...

That's what Wikipedia is for, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I found your blog from the Amanda Palmer website. I also provided food for Amanda at the Metro last Wednesday. I think your blog really captured the backstage atmosphere and performance perfectly. Kudos!

Iris said...

Hey Anonoymous! Nice to hear from another who was backstage. We both got posters that night and Maise got hers signed. I was rummaging through my bag for the t-shirt I'd made for Amanda while she was signing so I didn't get mine autographed but that was okay since I've already got a signed poster from her and Brian. Thought it would be better to be appreciative than greedy.

The whole evening was so great and definitely worth the 6 hour drive I had to do immediately after the show so I could get to work by 8am the next morning. I say I won't do that ever again but honestly if we ever found ourselves in another situation like this one then I totally would.

Anonymous said...

Can you swing by tomorrow night and provide me with dinner? I have to work late, and I know I won't feel like cooking.

IF YOU DO, I will provide you with the following: outlets for plugging in various electrical appliances, a hungry stomach, eye contact, my autograph on ONE item of your choosing, use of my dishwasher and garbage disposal.

REQUIREMENTS: one hot main dish, two side dishes (one starch, one vegetable), one chilled beverage. All to be served on china with silverware and linens, and candlelight.

Let me know if you're up to it. Oh, I'll also reimburse you for mileage.

Iris said...

Maise, how about it? You ready to quit your day job and become a caterer for one? I can make you up some business cards that say "Will Work For Autographed Merch".

maise said...

I think our next culinary adventure should be roasting a chicken for Trent, just like Tori Amos. No pressure there at all.

Iris said...

I think we're going to need a whole lot more liquid courage before we take on cooking for El Rez. And after we finish drinking, we'll probably need a phone number to a good caterer who delivers.

Isabel said...

After seeing some of the food choices on Trent's tour blog, I don't think his food standards are that high, you'd be OK getting a take out from Burger King probably

Cat said...

Hey, I've been following you since WearingTheseChains and I love Places Parallel as well. To Iris, regarding the post she left on my blog, sorry I didn't give your friend credit for the pic, I didn't know it was actually theirs. But I did now, so you guys don't have to worry about that. And Maise, the food looks delicious, I'm sure Amanda Palmer and her crew enjoyed it very much. Keep up the good work!