Tori Amos Attacks Despair

Live at the Paramount Theatre, 7/13.

Promoting her latest album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, Tori
Amos played to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Paramount Theatre Monday
night, with British rock band One eskimO opening the show. Her two-hour
set focused on material off her the new album, but included songs that
spanned Amos’ fifteen-year-plus career, finishing with “Tear in your
Hand” off 1992’s iconic Little Earthquakes. This was the third
show on the “Sinful Attraction” tour, which began last week in
Seattle.

Released in mid-May, Abnormally Attracted to Sin is Amos’
tenth studio album and her debut on Universal Records, after ending a
five-year contract with Epic. The title comes from a line from Guys
and Dolls
. But the line, Amos says, is just a “jumping-off point”:
While the name could be mistaken for a self-deprecating celebration of
hedonism, it’s actually a reaction to harsh societal prejudice,
particularly among religious societies. A main theme of her new record
is the “threat of despair” — a concept that Amos feels controls
us — and a reclamation of self in a judgmental society.

“The greatest sin is intolerance,” said Amos in an interview prior
to the show, “and this is coming from a minister’s daughter.” Raised in
a conservative Methodist household, Amos says that she witnessed a lot
of hypocrisy and judgment among believers, and not enough compassion
— though she acknowledges the positive potential of religion.
“It’s a choice, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s hard to find,” she said.
“Growing up in the Methodist church, yes, I found there to be some
compassionate people. But I found a lot more judgmental, hypocritical
people who would try to destroy other people if they couldn’t agree
with their lifestyle.”

She touches on the themes of choice and judgment in a variety of
scenarios throughout the album, with songs that explore prostitution,
self-doubt, suicide, war, and the destructive power of the church.
Amos’ desire to challenge — to put it mildly — the
institution of religion comes out strongest in “Strong Black Vine,”
which features subverted biblical imagery, sadomasochistic undertones,
and the chorus: Save you from that evil faith. The song closed
the main set, in front of a bright red-lit, fiery-looking
background.

Dressed in shiny purple spandex under a flowing, fringy gown, Amos
began her set with Abnormally Attracted to Sin‘s dark, driving
“Give,” the story of a prostitute who explains how giving love is what
sustains her. It was hard to tell how much of the crowd was familiar
with Amos’ newest work. Older songs got a much bigger reaction than
anything off the new album, though the real crowd-pleaser was a dark,
slow rendition of Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time.” Listeners
starving for some classic Tori got to hear 1999’s “Precious Things,”
(off To Venus and Back) just before “Strong Black Vine.” Her
first encore started with the new “Police Me,” followed by another
Venus song, “Bliss,” with the final encore featuring “Big
Wheel,” off American Doll Posse, and then “Tear in Your Hand.”
Despite the classic songs getting so much more attention, this didn’t
look like a classic Tori Amos crowd: all ages, a nearly equal mix of
genders, and not as much quirk as she attracted in the past. Whether
she is drawing a new crowd of listeners these days or the Nineties goth
kids have grown up and mellowed out isn’t quite clear, but the crowd
looked a bit conservative compared to past Tori shows — not a
single pair of fairy wings in sight.

Despite not having yet released an album in the United States (its
debut, All Balloons, is due for a September release), One eskimO
seemed to have a decent following. This is their first North American
tour. With their dreamlike, ethereal sound, lead singer and lyricist
Kristian Leontiou says the band sometimes gets compared to Radiohead or
Massive Attack. Before forming the band, the now-27-year-old Leontiou
was on his way to becoming to the “next big thing” of Britain’s
manufactured pop scene after his 2004 top ten hit, “Story of My Life.”
Soon after, he began playing with drummer Adam Falkner, and later added
guitarist Peter Rinaldi and bass and horn player Jamie Sefton.

However, if you read the blog on the band’s web site, you won’t get
this information, but rather an illustrated story of a little “eskimO”
who “loved nothing more than to sing” and formed a band with a giraffe,
monkey, and penguin, all corresponding to current band members. The
characters and animation style make another appearance in the music
video for the single “Hometime,” resulting in a cute, somewhat eerie,
psychedelic Fantasia­-esque creation.

“I wrote the bio because I really find blogging difficult,”
explained Lentiou. “It’s one of those things. Everyone was saying you
need a blog, and I thought why not just be a little more creative with
it. Then the illustrations developed and ended up just staying on the
blog. … It was just a case of trying to do something visually that
was outside of ‘four guys in a band.’ We wanted to do something a bit
more magical.”

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