This was Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk—if she had three hours and no rules. Palmer swept up a packed house at Joe’s Pub, bursting into new songs, some oldies, and taking time (lots of it) to talk to an audience that hung on to every word—no matter how hard it was to listen at moments—for just about three hours.
Following a Club Helsinki show in Hudson, NY just a few days earlier, one of two “warm up” shows kicked off in New York City, Feb. 25, for Palmer’s upcoming tour, in support of her There Will Be No Intermission, out March 8. Script in tow, the Dresden Dolls and solo singer tested her new art, a mix of monologue, dialogue, and music.
Perhaps somewhere behind the curtain, Palmer’s husband, author Neil Gaiman introduced her, warning that the graphic, adult content may not be for the faint of heart like “parenthood during which your baby will fall from a shelf, a few beds, and other high places; one miscarriage, alone in a hotel room on a very cold, Christmas night”—both of these scenarios part of her story.
Fittingly, Palmer opened herself up in song and in her own nostalgia and revelations, whether talking about discovering Nick Cave, The Cure, and the Thompson Twins to the death of her closest friend, brother, and grandfather. Death was the overriding theme as Palmer revealed the circumstances around her own abortions, miscarriage, and other big losses in her life, and offered to play the more cheerful, Dresden Dolls’ “Coin Operated Boy,” if any one needed a moment of respite.
Giving shout outs to her musical idols throughout—even “Judy Blume” got a song—Palmer remembered starting to write songs at 10 and breaking strings on her mom’s 19th century Steinway piano. Strumming her ukulele three songs in, Palmer was raw and compassionate with her past, regrets, non-regrets, and tragedy, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, which not only left her in grief over her hometown, but emotionally destroyed after backlash over a poem-blog she wrote about the bomber. “I never felt so alone,” said an emotional Palmer.
As if the audience could see right through her, Palmer was transparent with everything. She reminisced about more negative reactions from “Mandy Goes to Med School,” an upbeat abortion song. Tinkling the opening chords of “Mandy,” she joked that the 2006 Dresden Dolls’ track wouldn’t have gotten so much heat from fundamentalists if she made it sadder, perhaps in G minor, before shifting into “Oasis,” another song about abortion.
Who else could make abortion songs palatable? Amanda Fucking Palmer. In fact, she said it’s her job as an artist to do just that and moved into “Part of Your World,” which is from the point of view of the artist, the mother and the fetus.
Palmer gave birth to Anthony Karl David (aka Ash), named after her dear friend, her brother, and Gaiman’s father, respectively, in 2015, and talks about her fears and lack of confidence as a new mom, repeating “at least the baby didn’t die” in “A Mother’s Confession,” after recalling a time her baby accidentally fell from a shelf. (The child is OK.)
There was even an actual intermission, followed by an encore, including Palmer’s latest single “Voicemail for Jill,” another ode to abortion and its impact on women. Adding a touch of levity following the heavy track, Palmer moved through a rendition of Frozen’s “Let It Go,” a dedication to friend Ben in the audience, in a more ambient tone.
Dark, humorous and, at times, heartbreaking, there are very few moments when an artist lays their soul bare. Palmer did it.
And, on a lighter note…