Reviewed on Thursday January 9
Amanda Palmer eats, poops, cries and bleeds like the rest of us. It’s a reality that was conveniently forgotten by many of her detractors last year, when Palmer crowdsourced a touring band and (half) the internet turned against her. This on top of a long spell of personal troubles and family illnesses that pushed the New York punk/comedy/cabaret performer into a darkness from which she’s only recently emerged.
The opening night crowd of her ten-date Sydney Festival run is reminded of this as Palmer barely holds herself together through the broody middle act of an hour-long show. Not that it’s all about tears and feels. Palmer opens with an unplugged ukulele version of ‘In My Mind’, in which she saunters around the Spiegeltent greeting fans with bellowing choruses of self-affirmation. The comedy arrives with ‘Vegemite (The Black Death)’ – the only love song, her husband Neil Gaiman complains, that Palmer has ever written him – and ‘Map Of Tasmania’.
Yes, Palmer is an Aussie at heart, and it’s on her interpretation of Ted Egan’s ‘The Drover’s Boy’ that the show turns. The tragic tale of Aboriginal women masquerading as men to work on the frontiers is punctuated by Palmer’s booming stomps on the stage floor, and an artful touch of nudity that’s too important to spoil. Next, a special guest arrives at the back of the room: Brendan Maclean, who performs a jaw-dropping duet with Palmer on Bat For Lashes’ ‘Laura’.
The Spiegeltent couldn’t be better suited to Palmer’s sound and show. Even in solo form – perhaps more so than ever – Palmer is affecting, sharp, surprising and brilliant. And though she’s been wounded, it feels as if she’s back where she belongs, for an hour at least. “When they put me in the ground,” she sings with a grin, “I’ll start pounding the lid, saying / I haven’t finished yet / I still have a tattoo to get / It says, ‘I’m living in the moment’.”