Amanda Palmer in Köln: you’re on the door, minus one

Köln, 4 November 2016

Yesterday I went to a rock concert on my own for the first time in my life.

In another country.

In the middle of nowhere.

After a pitch black park.

But it’s rock music, so if you fall into the crowd, the crowd picks you up.

… Tends not to go to rock concerts ‘cause he can’t stand the crowds…

—Tim Minchin, Rock ’n’ Roll Nerd

“But I’ll be useless if they jumped

I’m really not the killing type”

—Amanda Palmer, The Killing Type

I would have loved to find myself in the middle of a crowd as the train left the Altonaer Platz, a dark station, up North in Cologne. The girl that had smiled me as I had boarded the train had left one stop before, with her boyfriend. I had thought I had seen a look of recognition in her face when I boarded the train, and felt sad I had been wrong.

The street is dark ahead, and there are people walking in the same direction as Google Maps points I should be taking.

I swallow my heart and try not to think that there’s no one waiting for me back in my apartment, and now no one waiting for me at the concert. This is only getting darker. A man walks ahead of me. Another girl walks alone, behind me. I slow down a little. I have to ask.

“Um, hey, are you going to Amanda Palmer’s concert?”

She is.

“Mind if we walk together?”

Amanda hammers the piano. She does. It is true that she treats it as a percussion instrument.

(A shrill voice pianosplains: “it’s struck strings, Bego” OK YEAH I KNOW THANKS).

I wish I had known her when I was trying to play the piano. She was in high school then I guess. My piano teacher was a purist:

“Piano is for life. If you stop practicing for a day, you’ll notice. If you stop practicing for two days, other people will.”

Yes, thank you too, no pressure.

As a perfectionist child used to instant success at things I tried in school, piano classes were a nightmare. I didn’t study, I didn’t practice. I had never needed to, before. Also, I didn’t have an audience. My younger sister was one year ahead, she was cute as a button and way better than me. Once I got to play a piece it was already old for everybody I knew. It was a lonely affair, the piano and me, back then. I wanted it, but feared it. I just didn’t want to put in the work, because I felt like a loser having to work for something. It should come naturally, like those fast-paced montages in movies when people BAM practice a bit and get their ability. Like in Groundhog Day.

Piano doesn’t work like that. Fucker wants to get to know you first, before giving it up.

I recognise the feeling now. That having to push through the trawling in the mud, crying-in-frustration part. You come out all sunny smiles and scratched knees on the other side, but verdammt, it hurts.

So, piano and I parted ways before I entered high school. Piano is like an ex-lover to me. I’m happy to see it makes others happy. There’s a bit of compersion, a bit of jealousy, a bit of what if fantasy, a bit of fond memories, a bit of VORSICHT-ACHTUNG-CAREFUL-glamourised-memories-behind. I listen to piano when I translate, and hit the letters in tempo with the music.

Back to Amanda’s last night.

“Piano is Evil”  — she says.

Does piano consent to this?

I didn’t know piano could be so kinky, that’s what I thought.

I didn’t know you could strike the piano down. That piano consents that you spank it, slap it across the face, caress it and whip it again, forte, fortissimo, to paroxysm. To ecstasy. To wicked tickles, at times. You know. She was pumping it somehow. Forcing the music out. “Like wildcats in thunderstorms,” I heard in my head. She stomped on the stage with a thick tanned brown leather boot. She sat crossing one leg over the other, she half leaned, twisted and turned, she was a wiry mess that could have fallen from the stool but seemed not to need it.

In my mind, my piano teacher reprimands me for my posture. A pianist I fell in love with complaines that he’d never be a professional because his was bad, his shoulders would raise towards his ears as he played.

Well, take that, ghost of pianos past. Apparently one does not have to submit to the piano. You can make the piano submit to you.

My beloved friend is now a composer and teaches advanced harmony in a conservatory, in case you were wondering.

Amanda’s beating up the piano, and the piano is liking it and begging for more. I look at her arms and I see the lines that prove that she can do this for a bit, and still wonder how long can the crescendo keep climbing without one of the pair calling mercy. I guess a piano doesn’t get a safeword. Maybe the piano’s as high on this as everyone else. She pounds on and on and on and the melodies are an undercurrent in an upturned roaring cascade, flowing from warmer places over the crashing waves. This is the point where mere mortals would cramp, relent, stop. But she doesn’t.

We’re close, we all know. It’s resolving. Revolving. Turning. The scattered pieces gather, join together, fuse, explode.

She lifts her hands in the air, for a half note, and she throws her head back, and you know she’s finished too. A rope is pulled and the knot disappears, a structure falls disheveled to the floor. Then reality blinks once, twice, it’s back around you. All the assembly remembers that there’s such a thing as breathing, and it’s important that it happens again… around now. Breathe out. Breath in. Thunderous applause? Howling applause. We shout and wail and wipe our tears and clap till our palms tingle and burn.

Only one person fainted this time (I hope she’s all right).

By the way: the girl from the train is indeed in the audience.

“Ukulele, wand of thunder. You can play the ukulele too…”

Amanda, you are the music teacher we never had. You don’t have to go all the way with an instrument. You don’t have to get in the relationship escalator and get married to your instrument. You don’t have to submit to it. Don’t practice everyday, but do practice till it hurts if it suits you. And with this promise, we’ve all gotten our ukuleles, and we’ve definitely not killed our parents or anyone for that matter, and we’ve minimised stranger’s sadnesses, and our own.

A ukulele is generous and forgiving. The independent extrovert of music. Thanks for introducing us, Amanda. We all thank you.

Delilah, with Whitney Moses

She walked like a friendly Valkyrie out of a Mucha painting. Her voice SHOOK you from the inside.

Whitney-Moses-Delilah.pngAmanda wants you to sing along — right?

“Your voice is so beautiful,” says Jana, the girl I tried to give my extra ticket to — until another fan who brought her from Frankfurt beat me to it. I try to think she means exactly what she says, and that this is not an über-polite German hint. On Twitter a girl leaves the concert in tears, as tall man has told her to stop singing. “It can’t be that someone is so crass and clueless about the Amanda thing” is my first reaction. Amanda would want you to sing along, right?

“I get torn to pieces for the stupidest reasons”

She didn’t play Melody Dean or Massachussetts Avenue or Do it with a Rock Star or Want it Back). This is not a complaint. There’s so much she didn’t play, yeah. Also, I’m an Amanda Palmer fan, I got here too late for the Dresden Dolls, and they’re not… not really as much my thing as soloing Amanda is. I think.

Maybe because “I get torn to pieces for the stupidest reasons,” I don’t go so often into the scary rooms in Amanda’s castle. Or the tear-your-heart-apart ones like The Bed Song. It felt good to go there with her, to get the guided tour, hand in hand as it were — or maybe leashed, because running away is not really an option at that point.

“Just keep touring

Just keep on ignoring

Be a good little trout”

—Amanda Palmer, Trout Heart Replica

Unfreezing and reimagining past songs

She mentioned that thanks to the Patreon folks (proud to be even a humble one, then) she can do whatever she likes. For example, publishing piano-only versions of how the songs feel for her now, which is her latest record, Piano is evil. She hinted (not for the first time) at a German-only record.

She explained that she spent 4 months in Sülz, Cologne, as a German Studies major. To me it’s uncanny because it’s more or less what I did with English and German, only one year later, living at the UniCenter and studying Translation and Interpreting at the Fachhochschule Köln. Those were dark times.

I find the concept really interesting: recorded music stays frozen in time. No new versions are recorded because the effort is too large and the profit margin too narrow for a record label. But with active artists, their music it evolves all the time as they practice and perform and grow. A record from a few years’ ago is that Amanda, back then (was it Lou Reed who said, you’re all stuck on stuff I left behind years ago?).

How does she see things now? How can you grow with someone if you don’t visit often? But how can you? An artist can only tour so much. There’s so many of us that can afford to listen live (and not so often) and so little time on the artist’s side. As an artist, there’s so much you can do with a lifetime: I’d rather they spent time exploring and sharing, than touring known territories… more than they want to. “Just keep touring / Just keep on ignoring / Be a good little trout.”

“I didn’t feel like dressing up tonight”, she said at the beginning. “These are… my clothes.”

The whole concert was another reason to support her doing whatever she wants to do, for as long as we all find this relationship interesting.

Set list

From setlist.fm. I kind of disagree with the attributions, but leaving it mostly as is:

1. Ich Bau Dir Ein Schloss (Heintje cover). On the ukulele, standing up in the bar while we all looked at the stage, and then turned around.

2. Creep (Radiohead cover). Also on the ukulele.

3. The Killing Type (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover). On the piano.

4. Missed Me (The Dresden Dolls song). Really scary when played live. On the piano.

5. Ampersand.

6. Machete

7. Vegemite

8. A Mother’s Confession

9. Astronaut (A Short History of Nearly Nothing)

10. Delilah (The Dresden Dolls song), with Whitney Moses. I tweeted what I felt back then

She walked like a friendly Valkyrie out of a Mucha painting. Her voice SHOOK you from the inside.

11. Paperback Writer (The Beatles cover)

12. The Bed Song (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover)

13. Strength Through Music

14. Guitar Hero

15. Should I Stay or Should I Go (The Clash cover), with a black Les Paul electric ukulele. Also my very first mosh pit. It felt safe. Which is the most surprising thing.

16. In My Mind. On the ukulele, if I remember well. This song always makes me think of The Art of Asking and my friend @MetaMaiko.

17. Nanna’s Lied (Kurt Weill cover)

18. Berlin (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover)

19. Half Jack (The Dresden Dolls song)

20. Coin-Operated Boy (The Dresden Dolls song). This is the only song from Amanda that Elisa likes, which is annoying because it’s not my favourite.

Encore:

22. Map of Tasmania. On the ukulele.

23. Judy Blume. On the piano.

24. Sing (The Dresden Dolls song)

25. Ukulele Anthem (Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra cover) (Played on the ukulele, of course, in the middle of the crowd). I uploaded a bit of video to Twitter here: https://twitter.com/minibego/status/794331753288794112

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