Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra at Turner Hall
At Turner Hall on Sunday night, Amanda Palmer blasted through songs from her new album "Theater is Evil."
Amanda Palmer stands humbled and alone in the spotlight with wild hair, signature arched eyebrows, a blue bandit mask of eyeshadow, and wearing only a lacy bra with a corset and Ziggy Stardust-approved spandex hosiery. She pauses to smile, then blows a wad of snot into a towel near the microphone.
Not that you would notice, as Palmer and her new bandmates from Grand Theft Orchestra tore through singles of the new album Theater is Evil. Backed by a brigade of horns and strings from Chicago, and continuing to be inspired by the cadence and intonations of “Brechtian Punk Cabaret” that made her famous in the Dresden Dolls, the new band blistered such NSFW songs like “Do It with a Rock Star” and “Want It Back” with all the power of a radio-play punk-pop song in the style of Pink or The Runaways.
In these other artists, however, the song-styling is slicker. They’re shocking for shock value, and almost more macho. Palmer’s empowered writing and voice by comparison is often that of the spurned, outraged or damaged woman. This anger or disappointment isn’t necessarily pointed at a male partner—just a relationship gone wrong. The theatrical effect of a desperate Amanda Palmer at the end of a screaming match is complete by adding the strained voice of a fine singer scraped raw trying to give her audience everything they want and more.
The late-night crowd on Sunday found a second wind shortly before midnight as they carried Palmer and her theatrically-long bridal dress above their heads until it formed a cozy white tent. While the classic Turner Hall audience was atypically wide in demographic and musicologists, it was the younger and more ardent fans who stood for four hours, pressed like magnets to the stage while band member side projects performed and technical issues plagued the start time. Drummer Michael McQuilken grumpily told the crowd, “this night is dedicated to the ghosts of Turner Hall.”
No review of this Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra concert would be complete without addressing the “anti-heckler,” only because of the way it stopped the concert dead for a time and became a recurring rejoinder for Palmer throughout the night.
Common to Milwaukee audiences is the drunken heckler as emotionally-undone fan seeking direct contact with the performer. When it happens in spaces like Pabst or Riverside, there is a buffer of space between artist and audience member. At Turner, it ends up being confronted. The young man who would cannonball yell during breaks between numbers (which were often long pauses as Palmer attempted to recover from coughing) just wanted it recognized what Dresden Dolls meant to him. In a therapeutic moment (Palmer called it her Oprah or Dr. Phil segment), she explained that tonight was about her music from this year and the band she is with now. This concluded with a deep group hug between mates, although humorously.
Palmer often expressed an emotional gratitude to the audience for coming to her show and sponsoring the new album, videos and tour (she raised $1.2 million through Kickstarter to make it all happen). She also threw out the occasional bone, such as the comical quick-change musicianship seen during the cabaret camp of “Missed Me” (from the 2003 album, The Dresden Dolls) and the keyboard-bombastic “Astronaut” (from the Ben Folds co-produced solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer?). But it wasn’t until the ukulele-only encore solo of Radiohead’s “Creep” that Palmer began to fully falter in bronchial delirium, until she was bolstered and kept aloft by the devoted spirits in Turner Hall singing the song back to her.