Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra – at The Fillmore Auditorium – San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2012

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra - at The Fillmore Auditorium - San Francisco, CA - September 26, 2012If there's one thing that's difficult to maintain in live music, it's unpredictability. A standard three- to six-piece rock band can bring all manner of stage acrobatics, dizzying musicianship and dazzling strobe lights to a performance and leave their audience screaming for more, but some fans will crave more. Interactivity, strangeness, uncomfortability, adventure-- the kind of concert that should be prefaced with a spoiler warning before one tells the tale. Bostonian underground-rock-star extraordinaire Amanda Palmer, recently attracting a fair bit of news and attention over a million-dollar Kickstarter campaign and a massive tour that incorporates groups of local musicians at each of its stops, has always been rather adept at offering the sorts of stunts, tricks and feats that merit this description, and her current lap through the US and Europe has her pulling out all the stops in a dynamite display of wild energy, marvelous musicianship and crowd interaction that is rarely seen today with the larger acts of the rock and roll world.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra - at The Fillmore Auditorium - San Francisco, CA - September 26, 2012
As in her days with the Dresden Dolls, the cleverly-categorized "Brechtian cabaret Punk" duo consisting of herself and drummer Brian Viglione, Palmer's shows are less a match of opening band to headliner and more of a collection of friends and acquaintances not afraid to fly their freak flags in the name of stunning performances and raucous celebrations. Jherek Bischoff, Seattle composer and bassist for Palmer's new band The Grand Theft Orchestra, opened the show with a few of his own songs, performed by himself and a small section of local San Francisco chamber group Classical Revolution. Bischoff's lush orchestration paired fantastically with his dark rhythms and furious swagger, with his songs running the gamut from soaring ballads to wicked waltzes from the beyond.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra - at The Fillmore Auditorium - San Francisco, CA - September 26, 2012
If the gentle beauty of the opening piece had quelled the audience's excitement at all, they were greeted by a loud, sharp contrast in the form of Chad Raines, the Grand Theft Orchestra's guitarist. All but abandoning his signature instrument in his own band, The Simple Pleasure, he followed Bischoff up with a zany, disco-fueled dance-and-rock-fest that saw the young Raines hurling himself from end to end of the stage, all the while shaking his hips and belting out his words.

The amusement from the assembled crowd had already begun to grow, especially when Palmer, who popped onto the stage between acts to introduce the next group and speak to her onlookers, announced that she and her husband, English author Neil Gaiman, were going to take a set of records that they had acquired earlier that day, sign them, and then hide them in the theater while the onstage circus continued to unfold. To that end, the next two acts were definitely on more of a novelty end of things, but brilliantly hilarious all the same. A vaudevillian duo known as the Daredevil Chicken Club leapt about while hurling (and spitting) bits of banana into each others mouths, eventually ending via an impromptu striptease that featured fake, attached genitals -- which, in turn, also ended up being discarded. The final cheers and peals of laughter before Palmer herself took the stage were culled by Ronald Reagan, self-described as "Boston's Premier 1980s Pop Saxophone Cover Band", who knocked out performances of "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" that shook the walls of the Fillmore with the sound of the audience singing every word with gusto and joy.

Those who managed to catch Palmer and her band back in July for a small set of performances, including two stops at San Francisco's tiny art space known as Public Works, had been told that the fall lap of shows would be astronomically bigger than those of late summer, and the band was true to their word. With the members, equipment, and stage clad all in white, it offered a perfect platform for the opening number, "Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen)", to utilize photographs that had been collected online from the audience before the show, and then flash them across the stage in a massive projection. Swaying lights and a shimmering orchestra, in the form of Classical Revolution, accented the thunderous onstage presence of Palmer, Bischoff, Raines, and drummer Michael McQuilken, who burst into the set with the aforementioned number and careened immediately into the stomping fist-pumper "The Killing Type". Before the audience could prepare for the rest of the songs from the band's 2012 album Theatre Is Evil, however, Palmer and her band switched gears and sauntered into a roaring, mind blowing performance of the Dresden Dolls' song "Missed Me", which saw all four members of the Grand Theft Orchestra switching their instruments for each verse and throwing each other about in their haste to do so.
Amanda Palmer
Even though Palmer has, and always will be, the owner of her shows, with marvelous charisma and a dark gleam in her eyes that reveals her desire to excite and captivate those before her, she has found an excellent match for her show-womanship in the Grand Theft Orchestra. The precise, conductive movements of Bischoff, the manic whirling dervish that was Raines, and the primal fury of McQuilken on drums serve as excellent compliments to Palmer's emotion-wrought gesturing and hell-bent hammering on her keyboard, and though the frenzied nature of the music and show calls for a certain level of delightful chaos, the four play off of each other well and are all well recognized. Their renditions of Palmer's older songs, such as "Oasis" and "Astronaut", breathe new life and energy into the pieces, with the latter coming into existence only after a mesmerizing, abrasive cacophony of droning and snarling sounds, and all of the new pieces from Theatre Is Evil eschewed the studio wizardry in favor of stunning bombast and haunting orchestration with every passing minute.

More and more tricks, of course, were up the sleeves of the rock stars who dominated the stage at the Fillmore. Besides the instrument switcheroo early in the set, Gaiman returned to the stage for two more bits: "In My Room", where dark, anonymous confessions of the crowd were read aloud and then discarded, to be purged from memory and to lift the souls of their writers, and a ukulele cover of Leon Payne's "Psycho" with Gaiman providing vocals. Palmer dressed in a delicate gossamer gown and dove atop the crowd during "Bottomfeeder", a massive dress train spilling out behind her and nearly covering the crowd at the Fillmore as they passed her from end to end of the dancefloor, and for "Olly Olly Oxen Free", the audience was encouraged to pull out flashlights and light Palmer as she marched from side to side of the stage, armed with furious gestures and a powerful voice. The set closer, "Leeds United", brought the full orchestra and band onto the stage, along with a host of friends, crew, and traveling musicians who danced about and hurled themselves from the stage while the band raged on behind them, the explosive sound and peaking energy threatening to tear the roof from the Fillmore with so great an intensity. Palmer and her trio returned to the stage for one last Theatre Is Evil number, "Do It With A Rockstar", followed by a rip-roaring, dazzlingly violent performance of the Dresden Dolls' "Girl Anachronism" that saw Raines leaping across the stage as though set upon by rabid wolves as Palmer, Bischoff and McQuilken raced through the rest of the song at a breakneck pace that left their audience breathless by its glorious end.

The level of intrigue and crowd participation associated with Amanda Palmer's shows has always been an attractant to me and my primary reason for coming to see her play, but now she has embraced her spotlight and claws at it with all the unkempt fury that has driven her passionate, spellbinding performances, and her live shows have become that much stronger because of it. Her new band is made up of fascinating musicians, each a brilliant performer in their own right who offers a performance that could bring the house down at any place they choose to go. Adding to the onstage intensity and musicianship is the show itself, which calls upon the crowd to bring and display themselves in ways that are rarely welcomed by acts who are able to put on such a dynamite performance, and a sense of camaraderie and the abandonment of elitist is left in the joyous haze of endorphins that the crowd finds themselves in at the end of the night. With Theatre Is Evil leaping into the Billboard at number 10, we can expect more marvelous things from Amanda and her Grand Theft Orchestra -- this is only the beginning.

                             More photos of the show can be seen HERE

-Jonathan P.-
Big Wheel Bay Area Reporter




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