Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra’s Theatre Is Evil
Meaningless Without Association
By Jeffrey Kieviet
An “it” unto itself is meaningless. For instance, a chair, all by itself doesn’t do, mean, or signify anything. But a chair and a person, now the chair is a seat, something to sit or rest on; a chair and a burnt out light bulb, now the chair is a means to reach the bulb in the ceiling fan so one can either replace it, or fall off the chair and break a hip. Some may argue that a chair unto itself can be a beautiful work of art. Jesus probably made many a chair that would be highly valued to an art collector or historian, but can you have art without an observer, someone to look at and appreciate it? That old “tree falls in the woods but no one is around to hear it,” yes, it makes a sound, but that doesn’t mean anything. Unless the tree had a hive of bees, so upon its felling the bees fly off in a rage to the nearest village (clearly out of ear shot of the recently deceased arbor), where they mercilessly sting the hard working aboriginals, potentially killing a tenth of the population (or at least putting them out of commission for a while), resulting in significantly less coffee bean production (because they’re bean farmers), so the next time I go to Starbucks, my orange-mocha frappuccino cost a penny more. Now the sound of that tree that fell in the woods means something to me.
But I digress. I associate Amanda Palmer with Neil Gaiman; I feel her music compliments his writing and vice versa. The same way ten years ago I was excited by the relationship between Danny Elfman and Tim Burton; they were practically a married couple and their influence in each other’s work made them both better artists. Since Amanda & Neil are actually married, hopefully they don’t start phoning in their later work like Danny & Tim.
A while back I finally started Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series and have been infatuated by the dream king and his minions & friends ever since. I’ll sit by the window, listening to Theatre Is Evil, reading A Game Of You and it feels like everything just fits. It was recently announced that he is going to be writing some new Sandman books, and I think with the increased influence of Palmer, fans are in for a treat. When I saw Amanda Palmer live in concert, she seemed like the woman who could have inspired his Death character in Sandman, however many years before their affiliation. Almost like destiny (the concept, not the character in his books).
So Tim Burton lead me to Danny Elfman, and Neil Gaiman lead me to Amanda Palmer. Actually, Kevin Smith played a part too. Checking out his SModcast network, I found one called “starf*@#ing” with the beloved Neil Gaiman and a woman I’d never heard of: Amanda F*@#ing Palmer. With a name like that, how could I not be curious? The occasional song on Pandora always peaked my interest (also check out her band, The Dresden Dolls), as well as a few music videos (althought I was thrown off by the armpit hair). A coworker (he’s asked to be referred to as “Horace”) told me he also had an interest in her music, and we saw that she had a couple local performances coming up. We live/work in Orange County, so we were trying to decide between her San Diego or Los Angeles show, but ultimately came to the conclusion that we were both boring old farts and would rather go home, watch a movie, and go to sleep by 9. But then (as if by Destiny) saw a facebook post from Neil Gaiman saying that he was going to be at Amanda’s San Diego show and wanted to tell a story before her set.
That sealed the deal. I called my sister who lives in San Diego, asking if we could park at her place (for drinks and possibly to crash after the show), and I casually checked to see if she’d be willing to drop us off at the House of Blues. We manage to avoid heavy traffic and I got a quick tour of my sister’s new pad as I pound back shots of black cherry flavored Southern Comfort (SoCo is a personal bane, and how can one say “no” to anything listed as “black cherry?”). My kind and caring sister drives us around San Diego as my GPS misleads us all through downtown, eventually dropping us off on a drunken curb (your location within X meters) near the venue. We’d had some unwarranted fear about the show selling out (we’re lazy procrastinators and the internet doesn’t sell tickets to lazy procrastinators) but we get in fine.
The opening bands are just ok (apparently Amanda Palmer uses communist slave labor to drive her shows, but I have a whole other rant & rave in her defense. We’ll save it for another time), and the floor never really gets too full of fans. Good for me, I end up being able to move my way pretty close to the front of the pit. Amanda comes out a couple times in a quasi-SS uniform to introduce a band here and there, and then she comes out all somber and morose and is all “You guys are a quiet audience.” There’s a feeble attempt at high energy cheers, a mediocre “screw you” to the one we came to be entertained by, having been sapped by local saxophonists and garage bands. But then she’s all “No, no. I like it. I want you to keep it mellow because we’re going to try something we don’t normally do. I’d like to bring a very special friend to the stage. Ladies and gentlemen: Neil Gaiman.”
As much as I enjoy her music, this is what I came to see. I didn’t take any pictures (not that the ones I did take were of high quality), because I videoed the entire speech he gave (a rockin’ little story about him swearing as a child and learning the power of words). The video sucks because I was enraptured with actually watching an idol live as opposed to viewing him through the small screen of my camera phone, and I’d rather not post it online since unless you’re actually there it falls short of its spectacle, but he’s an excellent orator and tells a funny story about childhood vulgarity in a way only the author of American Gods could.
There’s another opening band (I think there were somewhere between 4 and 40) and then, finally, Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra takes the stage. They dance, they fight, they get drunk and stay the night, and they put on a kickass show. A couple highlights are: Amanda Palmer singing through a megaphone as a demonstration exhibition, kind of like a rally protest;
the whole band stopping mid-song to switch instruments, like a trial-by-fire musical chairs;
a giant white tiger (stuffed animal); the ravaging of her photographer; and finally, she dons a flowing white gown and crowd surfs, riding the audience as her music crests and breaks over our eager ear drums.
Oh, and seeing her armpit hair live, but that’s just personal.
Normally, after a rock show, I expect to find Horace passed out in the bathroom; or passed out in a booth or under a table; or passed out in the parking lot, head resting just behind a rear tire of a soon-to-be reversing vehicle, but alas, he’s stayed awake and enjoyed himself for the whole show. We stumble around down town San Diego trying to meet my sister’s car, but our internal GPS (our phones had died with the music) has us on the corner of nowhere and BFE. Somehow, by my sister’s maternal instinct, she finds us trying to run across a freeway overpass and takes us home. A solid end to an eventful evening.
The point being, this, all this, is what I associate with Amanda Palmer’s Theatre Is Evil: Neil Gaiman, Tim & Danny, Sandman, San Diego, my sister Megan, drunkenly stumbling around the House of Blues. I listen to the album and it all comes up and replays and makes me want to read A Doll’s House, watch Edward Scissorhands, get drunk at the Stone Brewery (located in San Diego), and thank my sister for babysitting me and my buddy so we could listen to some kickass tunes.
Favorite lyrics from Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra’s Theatre Is Evil:
“Holy shit, you got some action. Pictures or it didn’t happen.”
“I wouldn’t kill to win a war, I don’t get what they do it for… But I would kill to make you feel”
“Do you wanna smoke till our throats are sore? Make out and then talk and then make out some more?”
“And I’m scanning through the stations as the boys declare their feelings. But it doesn’t feel like feelings. It feels like they’re pretending. It’s like they just want blowjobs and they know these songs will get them.”
“Throw me in the water, ‘cuz I wanna be a bottomfeeder”
“Be honest it’s not as if you’re happy about it, it’s not as if you’re animatronic, it’s not as if you couldn’t cry out any time you wanted. ‘Olly olly oxen free.’ All the people you will never be.”