Performing to a sold-out crowd at “The Dise,” Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra put on a fun, raucous show. Palmer was intense, passionate, at times mesmerizing – and created ample space to show off her band’s talents along the way. Even before she came on as the headliner, Palmer was visible throughout the night, playing the role of emcee with grace and humor.
The first act was Grand Theft Orchestra’s bassist Jherek Bischoff, delivering some bad-ass bass gymnastics. Interestingly, Bischoff wears several hats – that of a musician, producer, arranger and composer. Currently touring with Palmer as her bass player, he’s also GTO’s ad hoc musical director, organizing and rehearsing string quartets in cities where the band can find them. (That’s right – rather than hiring and traveling with a string quartet, for a bunch of reasons Palmer & Co. have chosen to “open source” their musicians from the local fan base!) The ensemble sounded tight, and though there were the occasional “is this right?” glances among the newly-deputized crew, they clearly relished the opportunity to play with Palmer and GTO.
The second act provided comic relief (and a fond flashback for some of us). Billed as “Boston’s premiere 80s pop saxophone duo” and named Ronald Regan, the pair serenaded us with instrumental versions of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” and A-ha’s “Take on Me” – played perfectly, note for note, on sax. (I’m certain that no teenager escaped the 80’s without having this video etched into their brain.) Steve Perry was not in the room…though you could swear he was, as the entire crowd in unison belted out “Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues…” And just as with Bischoff, the second opening act’s members were also part of Palmer’s Grand Theft Orchestra.The third supporting act was GTO guitarist Chad Raines’ side project Simple Pleasure. Even if you weren’t a fan of dance music in general, or Chad’s high-energy fusion of techno beats and brash guitar, it was hard to remain neutral when he brought his adorable little girl on stage!
Throughout the night, Amanda danced with, fell into, and surfed the crowd. The audience went wild, waving and swaying to the beat, joining in on some of the choruses. There was no mistaking that a real orchestra is present – the string quartet, the guitar/bass/drums usual suspects, keyboards; and augmented with a megaphone that Palmer was not afraid to scream into. It was a bit of a challenge to hear every instrument with crystal clarity. (In fact, one fan I spoke to mentioned that while he loved the live experience, he preferred the studio versions due to the recording’s fidelity.)
Never a dull (or quiet) moment – the already-energetic evening was periodically punctuated by emphatic choruses, and much audience participation. For me, one high point was Do It With a Rockstar – I found Palmer particularly bold, bursting, even desperate.
In an industry that seems to produce carefully fabricated, packaged, derivative pop stars, Amanda Palmer stands tall as a unique artist with a rich, colorful and diverse musical palette. If you haven’t seen her live, give it a shot