Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Palmer brings wild act to Pearl Street

By Angela Stasiowski

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Don’t be put off by superstitions. Sometimes 13 is a lucky number.

This Friday, Nov. 13, Dresden Doll’s singer, songwriter and pianist Amanda Palmer will try her luck at Pearl Street Clubroom in Northampton. The 9 p.m. show follows the recent conclusion to her “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” tour.

Palmer’s distinctive blend of powerful piano melodies and daring drama has come to be referred to as punk cabaret. Music and performer alike are always theatrical but never over the top.  

Having grown up in Lexington, Mass. Palmer is another proud product of the Bay State. An all around performer, she has been playing music since her early high school years. Upon graduating, she went on to attend Wesleyan University and became highly involved in the dramatic arts.

In songwriting Palmer draws directly from her influences, from operas to indies.   She has performed with the likes of Regina Spektor and …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead.

While her Dresden Dolls act rests on indefinite hiatus, Palmer has been forging the way for a solo career.  

Her first solo studio release, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer,” debuted in September of 2008. The album was born from a surprisingly diverse ensemble of artists, including producer and piano pop king, Ben Folds, and writer, Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman is most recognized for the novel “Good Omens” and children’s tale “Coraline,” which was recently adapted to film. He was also responsible for the art accompaniment to “Who Killed Amanda Palmer.” However, his connection to Palmer’s project did not end with the album release. Gaiman and Palmer have been in a relationship since the summer of this year.

Her debut was somewhat of a concept album, chronicling the life and hypothetical “death” of Ms. Palmer. It remains semiautobiographical throughout, touching on some of the performer’s darker life experiences. The title is also a blatant “Twin Peaks” reference, for fans of 90s television programming.

“A lot of the songs are piano ballads that never found a home on a Dolls’ record, because I hadn’t wanted to overload the record with slow material. But there’s a really intense, exciting energy to the tracks at the same time. It definitely won’t drag,” said Palmer of the album in an interview with The Boston Phoenix.

“Astronaut” opens the album with a jolt.  Only the percussion section, composed of none other than Folds himself, matches the ferocity of Palmer’s piano track. Put simply, the song educes shivers, a rare reminder of the power of piano and a strong vocalist. 

Showing off her softer side, songs like “Ampersand” and “Blake Says” feature hushed vocals over lush piano. She transitions from whispers to elevated arias with surprising ease.

As close to her music as she could safely be, Palmer is not afraid to handle touchy subjects, most of which she bases on her own experiences. The most notable of these true-life tales is “Oasis,” a controversial account of rape and abortion set to a bright piano backing. For this reason, Palmer says on her blog that the song was banned from rotation in the UK with representatives claiming it made light of “rape, religion, and abortion.”

Confounded by the harsh reactions of her UK label, Palmer responded in her blog on saying, “When you cannot joke about the darkness of life, that’s when the darkness takes over.”

Palmer has also covered tracks from a wide variety of sources. Admittedly influenced by Spektor, she has taken a stab at several of the young songwriter’s finest as well as a slew of other modern acts. One of her first recordings with Folds was a cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” which she released via her myspace page.

Opening for Palmer is Nervous Cabaret, a New York based band that has taken much of its inspiration from Palmer’s work with the Dresden Dolls.

There are quite simply no other voices in the industry quite like Palmer. She is pure piano power and sass, all at once captivating and terrifying. The performer pours her entirely into every song, broadcasting the type of brutal honesty few people even have in private.

Regardless of superstitions, Palmer is worth the risk.

 Amanda Palmer is performing on Friday, Nov. 13 at 9 P.M. at Pearl Street Ballroom in Northampton.  Tickets are $17.50 in advance and $20 at the door. 

 Angela Stasiowski can be reached at [email protected]

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