JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

September 18, 2012
Fitzgerald's, Cactus Music
Houston, TX USA
Review by Michael Victorick
Photos by Michael Victorick

Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra

Unique Cabaret-Style Sound

Honestly, I don't know where to start with Amanda Palmer. I doubt anyone does.

This artist first came to the attention of music fans across the country, when she teamed up with Brian Viglione, to create a unique cabaret-style sound that was dark and edgy. Known as the Dresden Dolls, the duo debuted in 2003. Seven years, several world tours and recordings later, the Dolls were done, (or on hiatus, whichever you prefer). But not Amanda! Oh no! Not this social networking diva. She was just getting started.

Palmer's sexy vaudevillian ways, and brilliant use of social media platforms, earned her a legion of followers around the globe. She cleverly used those connections, especially her Twitter followers, to raise funds online through a service called Kickstarter. Palmer raised an astounding $1.2 million on the Internet funding platform to record her solo debut. And, if you're going to break every conventional rule there is when it comes to recording an album, you might as well apply it to touring as well.

Fitzgerald's nightclub was the second stop on a two-month tour for Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra. She is out supporting her fan-funded disc, Theatre is Evil, that quickly climbed the charts. Tonight's performance was something I doubt I'll see the likes of any time soon. Let's face it, who on earth would think of putting out a 'call to arms' on the Internet looking for volunteer stringed quartets to join you on stage from city to city. Well, if you're members of Houston's award winning Two Star Symphony, this was a plea you could not ignore.

The edgy performer couldn't afford the reported $35 grand price tag for a small chamber of stringed professionals to accompany her on the road. So, she did the next best thing which was to outsource the jobs at every stop on the tour, under the Internet term "crowdsourced." In layman's words, if you were a half-way accomplished , classically trained musician with your own instrument, and didn't mind playing for beer, merchandise and hugs, you had a place on Amanda's stage. Fortunately for Palmer and the near capacity crowd, this group that volunteered was beyond exceptional. The quirky stringed ensemble was right up Palmer's creative alley. The audience roared their approval when they were introduced. The were also apparently paid a monetary fee as well for their appearance according to one of its members. So much for that controversy.

Whatever perceptions I had that this was going to be a gaudy burlesque show ala Dresden Doll was pretty much dashed with the first song, "A Grand Theft Transmission." What I got instead was a running highlight reel of a continuous art house performance accompanied by music. And perhaps that visual sensory overload was my one major gripe of the evening. When Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra (Two Star Symphony didn't hang around long enough to have an impact), actually concentrated on the music, the performance was exceptional. Even the Wham! classic "Careless Whisper" took on this beautiful undertone in the exceptional hands of these musicians.

But, for every moment of beauty, came a bit of total nonsense. The merchandise table had a box on it with a notation for fans to leave a written explanation about something bad that occurred in their room. Palmer read some of these confessions to the crowd, and even recorded some of the replies on her cell phone while reading them. Even when she used her recordings later on in the set, it seemed a total waste of time. Who knows, maybe this was a nod to her Dresden Dolls days. She did cover two of their songs in her set, "Missed Me" and "Girl Anachronism" from the 2003 debut album. Surprisingly, she totally ignored the more successful 2006 follow-up Yes, Virginia. Such is the selective nature of the creative mind.

Again, the over the top visual aspect of this show would have been a distraction for any other type of crowd but this one. If you didn't know any better, you would have thought Palmer had rented out the club so she could play a show for all her good friends. And tonight she had a few hundred of them; many old and a few new. Everyone was a familiar face this evening, and you could clearly see they were connected to the singer beyond just her music. They understood her genius.

Set List:
A Grand Theft Transmission
Smile (Pictures or It Didn't Happen)
The Killing Type
Missed Me (Dresden Dolls cover)
Want It Back
Grown Man Cry
Trout Heart Replica
The Bed Song
In My Room (Yaz cover)
Girl Anachronism (Dresden Dolls cover)
Careless Whisper (Wham! cover)
Massachusetts Avenue
Olly Olly Oxen Free
Leeds United