Amanda Palmer at Turner Hall
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Amanda Palmer isn’t one to shy away from controversy. Her cabaret-punk act has become a beacon for the LGBT community, and she’s made minor headlines for fights with her record label, the music press, and even fans. On her current tour with The Grand Theft Orchestra, she took flak early on for “hiring” local musicians to augment her band in various cities but not paying them—so much flak that she reportedly had a change of heart and started forking over cash. Sunday night’s show at Turner Hall Ballroom wasn’t over-the-top in any respect, though, focusing instead on a basic bare-bones rock setup and Palmer’s own theatrical charisma.
Drummer Michael McQuilken commanded a prominent spot at stage right, whether in tribute to or defiance of the drummer from Palmer’s more famous band, the duo known as The Dresden Dolls. Palmer even felt compelled to bring a well-meaning fan onstage to discuss the absence of Dolls drummer Brian Viglione and the somewhat mysterious hiatus of that band. McQuilken was quick to point out that he and Viglione are friends, and that the Dolls would be back some day. Palmer was less forthcoming, but she certainly performed like she had something to prove in leaving her more well-known act behind. She sang amazingly well considering she’s going through a bout with bronchitis, concentrating almost entirely on material from her new album with the GTO, Theatre Is Evil. Her band was competent and played with gusto, but the specter of the Dolls loomed a bit too large over the proceedings.
The band played the Dolls’ “Missed Me” early in the set, with all the musicians scurrying gleefully around the stage, swapping instruments between verses. But it only served to highlight how interesting the new material wasn’t in comparison. The crowd was always ready with enthusiastic vocal support, but the new tunes weren’t generating a lot of excitement. Palmer is an engaging presence even if she’s just sitting on a stool, and her charm carried the show in the absence of a lot of musical highlights. “Do It With A Rockstar” was undeniably invigorating, and her solo performance of “The Bed Song” was definitely captivating. But nothing came close to the energy of “Missed Me” until the final encore, with Palmer solo on ukulele, letting the crowd serenade her with Radiohead’s “Creep.” For a champion of weirdos everywhere, this was a fitting nightcap, but Palmer’s new music came off as surprisingly tame.