Many years ago when a friend sent me the song “My Alcoholic Friends” by the Dresden Dolls, I became intrigued by this charismatic cabaret punk duo. Singer and song writer, Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, dazzled me with their theatrical, piano-pounding, dramatic performances viewed online. I’ve been a fan ever since.
Amanda has since gone solo forming the band Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra.
Amanda is the consummate artist. She is always evolving, creating, reinterpreting her art and performances. Recently, she caused a stir when she split from her record label and sought to raise money independently to record her latest album. She turned to crowdsourcing site, Kickstarter, to raise $100,000 needed to produce the Theater is Evil album. Through her savvy use of Twitter and her blog, she gained an unprecedented groundswell of support, raising $1.2M.
She added even more intrigue to her persona two years ago when she married English author Neil Gaiman. He is famous for his comic books and graphic novels such as The Sandman, Coraline and the Graveyard Book.
Amanda had been touring this year in Europe with The Grand Theft Orchestra. In NYC, she and Neil combined both of their talents into a two night event at Town Hall on Friday November 25th, called “An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.”
I was very eager to witness the chemistry between the outspoken, direct, energetic performer and a Brit who is a reticent, shy intellectual. I looked forward to an evening of songs, poems, short stories and a special guest.
Before the show started I had to snap some photos of their fans who proved to be hilarious, colorful characters that stepped out of Neils’ stories.
The stage was spare and intimate with a few chairs, statues, a keyboard and microphones. Neil and Amanda walked across the stage with a bottle of red wine, sat down and immediately put the audience at ease. I felt giddy, part voyeur, part guest as they invited us into their living room to engage in unpretentious, unscripted banter. I was not used to seeing a performance that was a little raw, seemingly unrehearsed and informal, sometimes engaging the audience. She succeeded in creating a transparent and relaxed mise-en-scène in the same way as her open, no-holds-barred presence on Twitter. It was refreshing to see two performers staging acts reminiscent of 1970s variety shows (think Carol Burnett) and “Rat Pack” routines when Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. sauntered on stage puffing cigarettes and sipping martinis.
The evening unfolded with laughter when Amanda performed “Judy Blume”, a song about my teen hero and author who wrote books about teen angst, sexuality, the complications of love and being misunderstood by parents. It was these words in the song that had me burst out laughing:
“But you were in bed with me, safe, before anyone else,
You opened beside me and held me when I needed help,
You and me lying together at night, my hero,
You’ve been inside me forever, Judy Blume”
Amanda and Neil’s chemistry is electric. I have no idea whether they consider themselves soulmates, but their affection and interaction with one another was endearing and palpable. Their chemistry was most apparent when they sang a duet of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Makin’ Whoopee” while Amanda strummed a ukelele.
The laughter continued when she sang the unrequited love song written by Gaiman, “I Google You”. Don’t most of us relate to these lyrics?
“I Google you
When I’m all alone and don’t know what to do
And each shred of information that I gather
Says you’ve found somebody new
And it really shouldn’t matter
Ought to blow up my computer
But instead…I Google you”
The evening reached its apex during Neil’s soft spoken recitation from his latest Doctor Who story as Amanda gazed lovingly. A special guest, international dancer and cabaret performer, Meow Meow, dashed onto the stage to perform.
This couple has cultivated a strong social media presence and open dialogue with their fans. They continued their distinct social media discourse on stage by offering a Q&A session.
They closed their three hour performance with a poem written to each other. I hadn’t a clue what to expect from this joint performance, since I am not familiar with Neil’s work. Yet, I know so much more about Amanda’s charismatic live performances as well as the inner thoughts and images she expresses on Twitter and Instagram.
It is rare to see couples share so much in common and have such a strong bond. It makes me hopeful that perhaps I will find my soulmate in the social media world. It is a world where people have unreasonably high expectations, short attention spans and offer little in exchange.
Recently Amanda and Neil reported they intend to buy a home in New York City and in upstate NY. I’m hoping they will continue entertaining us more often as a couple. I also would like to see more entertainers engage their fans similarly in an informal and unrehearsed forum. The performance did not appear to be staged and exuded a friendly, folksy warmth. In a season when consumerism, rudeness and chaos reign supreme, this tact is very welcome.
Keep entertaining us, Amanda and Neil. Next time around, I would like to join you on stage, sipping wine and strumming a ukelele. I admire artists who seek to push the envelope to find creative ways to engage an audience.