Saturday night, after 80 minutes of being seated in the grandiose and austere Constitution Hall, the show comes to a close. The crowd hears the opening chords of “Cornflake Girl” and bum-rush the stage. Ushers are frantically trying to clear the fire hazard as rabid fans try all manner of gymnastics to snap one photo of Tori. The ushers yell and yell for people to return to their seats when a frail man angrily retorts
“You can’t stop this. This has been happening for 25 years!”
My parents went to high school with Tori Amos, then called Ellen, and my aunt sang with her in the choir. The two girls would sing in the hallways between class. Ellen was modest and religious; she was the most talented person in school, she didn’t party, she was beautiful, and voted most likely to succeed. She was so very nice.
This lore of Tori was very rich in my household. It came up at holidays a lot and I dismissed it for my entire life as a routine of nostalgia, I wasn’t interested in that singer my parents knew. After I left home, I kind of forgot about it.
When I was 25, I was in the bedroom of a musician who is known for being very intense. Not like Henry Rollins intense, more like Chris Burden intense. I noticed that he owned more Tori Amos CDs than any other artist, like an absurd number. I remember thinking “that’s curious, that lady from my parents high school?”
I was once in a friends kitchen and a painting of Tori Amos hung above a doorway. She said she made it. I asked to buy it for $100 for my intense musician friend. She told me to go fuck myself.
A couple of years later Slate published this article by wrestler Mick Foley, perhaps the most respected extreme wrestler ever, whose brutally bloody matches are legendary. He says Tori saved his life with her song called “Winter.”
It’s both a little embarrassing and exhilarating to discover you love records that have been in plain sight your entire life. Everything I thought before was wrong: it wasn’t precious music, it was visceral, it wasn’t religious, it was challenging, it was strange and though, often confessional, also frequently imaginative.
Saturday, after a few years of delving so voraciously into this artist on whose legend I was raised, I would finally see her perform a hometown show. The stage is set with a grande piano and a keyboard.
Suddenly a spotlight, and Tori appears. From the outset, her presence is arresting. For 80 minutes she careens thru the set, in her classic pose of straddling the piano bench between two keyboards, one hand on each. To punctuate certain lines she will slam the pianos lid, and sometimes an echo effect will touch her voice for one word.
The production escalates during the show, effects and then backing vocals, and ultimately drums being controlled by an engineer on the shadows.
Her attitude onstage is aggressive, and sometimes sneering. This baits the crowd to often pump a fist or yell from the middle of the seated concert hall. There’s a very slow boil happening, and what I would find out is that this is a Tori Amos thing:” Cornflake Girl” is coming, and we are going to leave our seats to get closer to her, but not after a long, long time of experiencing her at a distance.
Both the set list photo and the feature photo are from Tori Amos’ official Facebook page. The photo of Tori was captioned, “Hugs from Washington DC!”