Fans who attend a Tori Amos concert never know what to expect. But you can bet that she usually has an opinion about the state of the nation or events that have recently occurred on the national news and incorporates that into an unforgettable show. For this Aug. 13 performance on her “Summer of Sin” Tour at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park in Cary, NC, the red-haired pianist stayed close to home and performed a reflective and emotional set clearly dedicated to the memory of her older brother who unexpectedly passed away in a car accident last November.
Amos (born Myra Ellen Amos) was raised in Maryland by her father, a Methodist minister, and her mother, who descended from Cherokee heritage. By age four she was writing her own songs and playing the piano in her father’s church choir. She attended the prestigious Peabody Conservatory on a scholarship but was later kicked out for wanting to play rock and roll instead. After playing in Baltimore bars and clubs in her teens, she later moved to Los Angeles and landed a recording contract with Atlantic Records. Her first album filled with mostly pop tunes flopped, and she reinvented herself in the early 1990s to become the performer she is today.
Her album “Little Earthquakes” stunned listeners with its confessional lyrics and stark melodies. The a cappella song “Me and A Gun” chronicled her experience with rape and still touches many rape and incest survivors today. The albums that followed contained songs often fueled with sorrow, anger and rage, but in the past few years her songs have reflected the calmer life she has adjusted to since marrying sound engineer Mark Hawley and becoming a mother.
Depending on the mood of the 41-year old singer and the vibe she picks up from the people in the city she is visiting, Amos pens a written set list a few hours before the show. Sometimes she switches out a song or two at the last minute, but for the most part stays true to the songs she has chosen beforehand. Because her shows are so different from city to city. Amos has a legion of fans that often follow her throughout most of her tour dates.
The atmosphere of the amphitheatre was almost mystical with its surrounding pine trees and lake off to one side of the stage. Fans had to travel on a walkway through a pine forest to reach the venue, and the employees passed out handmade fans on wooden sticks emblazoned with a local news affiliate to everyone that walked in. The fans definitely came in handy, as the hot and humid weather could best be described as “sultry.”
The show was slated to start at 7 p.m. with a little known group called The Like opening, followed by The Ditty Bops. Starting almost 30 minutes late, The Like consisted of a female trio who played folksy-rock songs, but they seemed a little unsure of what they were doing at first and came across as inexperienced to the crowd. Still, they managed to play a respectable set from their upcoming album. The duo The Ditty Bops followed with an enjoyable eclectic set that included guitars, dulcimers and fiddles and sweet angelic voices with often humorous and ironic lyrics.
Then, the crowd settled in to wait for the main act. Around 9 p.m. the stage lights darkened and the tiny Amos made her appearance. She kicked off the show with her trademark wave to the audience and seated herself at the piano. She opened the show with the haunting song “Original Sinsuality” from her latest album “The Beekeeper.” The following two songs, the provocative “Little Amsterdam” and “Leather” fit in nicely with the name of the tour. “Amber Waves,” a song about a fictitious washed up porn star, followed.
From there, the mood of the show turned decidedly dark and reflective. For the most part, Amos focused on her instruments (a piano, organ and Wurlitzer), but she did take a break to talk a little about North Carolina, where she was born in what her mother called “100 degree weather” and spent many childhood summers.
Previous concerts have found Amos provocatively straddling her piano bench and practically swallowing her microphone as she pounded the piano with an almost maddening frenzy. The mood at the Cary concert was much more subdued.
While many of Amos’ songs from her eight-album catalogue deal with the ending of relationships in some form or another, that is not all her work is known for. But this concert seemed to focus on coming to terms with loss with such ballads as “China,” “Northern Lad,” “A Sorta Fairytale,” and “Baker, Baker.”
During her “piano bar” segment in the middle of the concert, she played two of the requests she had received from numerous fans in North Carolina over the past few weeks. She introduced covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and “The Long And Winding Road” by The Beatles, and told the audience she had chosen the songs because her brother Michael used to play them for her when she was a child.
In interviews surrounding the release of “The Beekeeper” Amos told about writing the title track following her mother’s grave illness last year that many expected she would not survive. Amos last saw her brother Michael at her mother’s bedside, and said she never expected that he would be the one who wouldn’t survive the ordeal. Incidentally, Amos’ parents could be spotted watching the show from the first few rows.
Amos ended the show with two stunning encores that included the touching tribute “Toast,” written for her brother, and the reflective “Gold Dust.”
“I thought I’d see you again,” she sang in ‘Toast.’ “You say you might do, maybe in a carving. In a cathedral, somewhere in Barcelona.”
Picking up on the mood of the concert, many of the fans were somber and obviously deep in thought as they left the powerful show. No doubt many of her fans hopped in their cars to head for Virginia, where here next show was scheduled. There, she mostly likely had a whole other set of surprises waiting for them.