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The Many Faces of
Tori Amos

The Many Faces of
Tori Amos


Tori Amos closed her world tour in Los Angeles on Sunday night. Arts and entertainment editor Corey Scholibo was there to witness her evolution -- and in the process learn a little bit about his own.

The first CD I ever got as a present was Tori Amos's Little Earthquakes. I had seen the video for "Silent All These Years" on MTV and had put it on my Christmas wish list only to have my 70-year-old great-aunt deliver it -- all wrapped up in one of those long cardboard CD boxes. I was 12 years old.

In the early '90s, when my generation was wallowing in Claire Danes's self-esteem issues on My So-called Life, other young girls and gay boys like me found Tori Amos and immediately knew we had found our voice. While some found their identity in Nirvana and the passing of Kurt Cobain, for me it was and always will be Tori.

I was lucky enough to be seated in the fourth row at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday night, the last night of her national tour. I had read that Amos was taking turns performing as the various doll characters that make up her conceptual new album American Doll Posse. The idea: different songs for different kinds of women, who presumably each represent some aspect of her personality. Or, all women are made up of similar archetypes like the rocker, the vamp, etc. It doesn't really matter, though, because the songs speak for themselves, and the dolls serve as chapter headings.

She opened the show as the blond Isabel, vamping in a cloud of smoke and puffing big clouds while slowly turning and pulling the smoke over her head like she was burning sage to clear the air. The first song up was "Yo George," a not-so-thinly veiled message to George W. Bush, then she launched straight into "In the Springtime of His Voodoo" from her controversial album Boys for Pele. When she began to make stiff, angular gestures with her arms -- at one point even pausing to do the robot -- it took me a minute to realize that she was pretending to be a doll. The first few songs, as Isabel, were all performed as if she were in a trance. For her performance of "Scarlet's Walk" -- from the album of the same name -- she even swung an antique lamp back and forth methodically, trying to hypnotize us.

A few songs in, Amos disappeared backstage only to emerge as Pip, a sleek, sexy rock star with jet-black hair and tight leather pants. The previously sedate and definitely seated crowd rose to its feet for more songs from American Doll Posse and even a cover of Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." If her previous character was an affectation, as Pip she was possessed. Amos became Joan Jett, even Grace Jones. Grabbing her crotch, sliding her hands all over her body, and for some reason prostrating herself on the ground -- half miming a doll trying to get up and half humping the floor. At one point she even reminded the writers on strike to stop sucking the "smegma off the cock of corporate America." The sentiment was ill-placed, particularly as she was performing in one of the most sterile and certainly corporate venues ever constructed. One need only walk into the lobby to see the range of currently available Nokia phones on display. But for songs like "Fat Slut" and the now infamous 10-minute live version of "Waitress," Pip was certainly appropriate. Considering this second incarnation and the songs she chose to accompany her character, I began to understand more fully the vision Amos had for this album. Then, after flicking the crowd off, she disappeared again.

When she emerged, she seemed to be Teri, as she began with "Big Wheel," which is attributed to Teri on the album -- but perhaps she was herself. In either case, she sported the red hair -- in a shade not found in nature -- we have come to expect of Amos, and a sparkly gold jump suit that we do not. This doll was happy to the point of seeming stupid. Amos added a saccharine edge to her voice and, as with the dolls before, seemed constantly in character.

When the band left the stage for the requisite torch song portion of the evening, it was just Amos and a piano. This happened to be the best part of the show, particularly "Bells for Her," which was mesmerizing. The section ended with "Silent All These Years," which seemed childish in the doll voice but also raw, like it sounded when her arrangements were simpler but no less powerful for it.

The evening came to a close with a synchronized rush of the stage by much of the audience. It caught me by surprise when several people, as if on cue, flew past me to the aisles, where guards were for some reason already waiting for them. And as Amos said goodnight, there were tears in her eyes.

The show had it's problems. The costume changes--carried off while her band jammed on some riff of a song or, in one case, the dance version of "Professional Widow"--were clumsy transitions, and I imagine the show moved more smoothly when she remained in one persona for the evening. Noticeably absent were songs from her previous, unheralded album The Beekeeper. But with its flowery imagery and mature femininity, it wouldn't really fit into the show. If her previous tour for Scarlett's Walk could be described as folksy, this tour was sleek and modern. Still, she had become the future Tori Amos and had found a way to bring the old sound with her. She also managed to bring the fans. When the songs were up-tempo, they held their hands up and threw fists at the stage; when it was time for "Bouncing Off Clouds," they literally bounced up and down like we had suddenly stepped into a Sublime concert.

Interestingly, the musical interludes were almost psychedelic in their sound and lighting. A gathering of groupies in the first couple of rows danced and twirled their wrists like they were at a Jim Morrison concert. They knew all the words to sections of songs that had clearly been added on this tour alone. Had Tori become the Grateful Dead? We were all quite a bit older than the crowds I remember when I was 16, when I saw her at a tiny theater at the University of Houston. At 28, I may have found my first musical transition moment: I was suddenly a little too uncool for a younger generation. But I also didn't care. If this was where Tori was headed for the next tour, then I was ready to paint my RV and hit the road.

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Corey Scholibo