I’ve recently come back around to being a Tori Amos fan again, in part because she’s never left the game. Despite weathering a series of upheavals in an industry that’s less than friendly to women over thirty, much less fifty, her artistic output continues at a prolific pace. Tori’s first three albums have always been special to me, especially her 1992 debut Little Earthquakes, which I’ll forever associate with my sophomore year of college; that album was released right around the time when my whole life changed and I decided to move to Boston. Though her music remains ever interesting, Boys for Pele (1996) was the last Tori Amos album that I really loved in its entirety, and Scarlet’s Walk (2002) was her last album from which I enjoyed the majority of the songs. On each of Tori’s seven studio albums released since then, only a handful of tracks have usually stood out to me, even if I greatly admire her body of music as a whole.
Tori’s solo show last night at Boston Opera House was the third time I’ve seen her in concert, and the first time I’ve heard her perform without a band. There’s no doubt that she commanded the space, both vocally and via the magnetism of her persona. In a tight 90-minute set (two songs were cut from the encore due to the theater’s curfew…or because Tori took too long to get onstage), the setlist spanned her entire solo career, though it was a heavily early-era selection. That’s totally fine with me since I adore her early albums, but I’m sure most Toriphiles would be surprised that out of the twenty songs she performed, eight of them came from the first five years of Tori’s output: a volcanic rendition of the title number from Little Earthquakes, three Under the Pink-era songs, and four tracks from Boys for Pele. Tori knows her audience, and because Boston’s a college town, she also knows that the folks in the audience who loved those early albums during their college years are the ones who jumpstarted her career back then.
After the standard opener “Parasol,” Tori’s launch into “Caught a Lite Sneeze” set a thrilling tempo for the crowd. (To the woman sitting in front of me who blew her nose throughout the entire song: very literal timing!) “Secret Spell,” a song from 2007’s American Doll Posse that I’d never taken much notice of before, sounded gorgeous in a live setting and took on an enchanting layer of allure. I’m still a bit shocked that my favorite number of the night was “Baker Baker.” While I’ve always found this little breakup song to be innocuously moving, it acquired mournful new depth for me, even minus John Philip Shenale’s lush strings arrangement from the album version, when Tori sang it alone at her piano out on the stage. “Time / thought I’d made friends with time” among the song’s closing lines felt like stopping time itself as Tori delivered them.
Although Tori didn’t play my request (Corey Hart’s 1985 synthpop epic “Never Surrender”) during the Lizard Lounge segment of the show, the other requests that she chose to perform certainly did not disappoint. Dave Loggins’ “Please Come to Boston,” with a surprise denouement from Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” was a poignant location-specific choice. However, I’ve lived in the city for over two decades now, so I’m not exactly desperate to hear any more songs about Boston. But Tori’s dark and inspired electronic mash-up of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and the “white-winged dove” refrain from Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” absolutely slaughtered the audience. Altogether, it was probably one of the best Lizard Lounge pairings of the tour thus far, and it was also cute to hear Tori introduce the covers by saying she couldn’t remember if she’d ever performed them live before since “we menopausal women can’t always remember things.”
All those crying white doves offered Tori an elegant poetic segue into “Black-Dove (January),” from 1998’s from the choirgirl hotel, as well as “Black Swan,” a rare 1994 B-side from the single for “Pretty Good Year.” Unfortunately, I must concur with some past concertgoers about the pre-recorded backing tracks that Tori used for both “Cornflake Girl” and “Wedding Day.” They simply didn’t fit the vibe of this intimate solo show, and they also drowned out Tori’s vocals to some extent. I think the point of picking up the pace with backing tracks was to invite the kids to rush down the aisles to the stage of the opera house; Tori actually waved for everybody to crowd the stage at the thumping start of “Cornflake Girl,” much to the dismay of the venue’s frenzied house managers, who kept trying, unsuccessfully, to clear the aisles until the end of the evening. “Hey Jupiter” made for a lovely, contemplative closer.
The best song Tori performed from her most recent album, Unrepentant Geraldines, was “Oysters,” a pensive mediation on survival and art-making, even a metaphor for songwriting itself. I wish I’d had a chance to hear Tori play “Invisible Boy,” the stunning closing track from the album, one of the most heartbreaking songs she’s written in years. But oh well — there’s always the next tour.