Walking out at the Manchester Apollo to a standing ovation, Tori Amos needn’t have been in any doubt just how much this city adores her. That adoration is swiftly repaid with a night of eclectic and electric music from a truly unique artist.
We see instantly the fire in her belly – brought out with the show’s searing opening track of Juarez with its plaintive wail to the murdered women of Mexico, with a bright red backdrop to drum home the intense injustice of those victims through the voice of the desert .
The American singer-songwriter, based mostly in Cornwall these days, is finally back on tour after successive lockdowns that have undoubtedly been tough for an artist who thrives on live performance. But we have lockdown to thank for her sixteenth studio album, Ocean to Ocean, using her personal lows for a creative high.
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The album’s title track is teamed with an abstract seascape on stage, while the music allows the serene waves of Ocean to Ocean to wash over us at the Apollo. Meanwhile her de ella stage outfit of flowing silk robes transforms her almost sea anemone-like between her musical instruments.
Her extraordinary performance style – straddling her piano stool while pounding a keyboard with one hand, her other on the baby grand, is really a sight to behold. And her voice of her remains as pure and exquisite as cut glass crystal.
Tossing her flame red waves around her shoulders, she moves fluidly between shifting personas – one moment seriously seductive siren, the next akin to a playful fraggle – all part of the Amos charm of course.
Flanked by her guitarist and drummer on this tour, we are served more cinematic and perhaps a tad lugubrious interpretations of the likes of fan favorites Caught a Lite Sneeze and Horses. For the Tori faithful though, there is nothing quite as magical as simply Tori and the piano as one.
When she announces she’s been going through the now ubiquitous list of fan requests and that “this is one I’ve not played yet on tour”, we are all sat rapt in hushed silence, to hear which familiar tinkle will pour out. When it becomes apparent it is China from her seminal debut Little Earthquakes, there are the elated gasps from the crowds – seen through to the quietly mouthed end notes of the song’s phrasing.
She leafs through her folder of “fan requests” before introducing the next rarely-performed gem for the night, Twinkle from 1996’s Boys for Pele, whispering an explanation that while it was not the most requested, “She wanted to come tonight”.
The stage bathed in red, the dark wail of the guitar and the keyboard brings Little Amsterdam to life. Tori’s seductive rasp de ella remains as powerful as the fingers she uses to stroke the competing microphones as she swivels between piano and keyboard, as if switching between competing suitors.
How to follow that? With a lusty cover of The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun allowing her deepest rasp to let loose. New track Take to the Sky is met with approval, particularly with an interlude of Carol King’s I Feel the Earth Move thrown in for good measure.
Devil’s Bane brings the main show to a crescendo that becomes a delicious finale with the familiar reprise of Cornflake Girl. She takes her bows, before returning to stage for the retro strains of Spies.
But it’s inevitably the show closer that pulls on the heart strings of fans with the enduring power of Precious Things. It rather leaves you with the feeling of wanting more, which is the enduring power of Tori’s art of course.
Set list – Manchester 02 Apollo March 15, 2022
Bouncing off Clouds
Caught a Lite Sneeze
ocean to ocean
House or the Rising Sun (cover)
Addition of Light Divided
take to the sky
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.