Review: Tori Amos at Smart Financial Center

Tori Amos
smart financial center
April 30, 2022

Those of you from, ahem, a certain harvest You may well remember the 1990s. Aside from the political upheavals that ushered in that particular decade, it was a time music fans will remember for the rise to prominence of female singer-songwriters. It wasn’t the first time women had sung about topics like sexual assault, stalking and abortion, but those stories were finally acceptable in adjacent mainstream arenas like MTV and college radio.

Tori Amos remains one of the most significant and persistent voices to emerge from that era. Her debut album (solo), small earthquakes, released in 1992. Prior to that, she had embarked on a poorly received synth-pop effort known as “Y Kant Tori Read”. His self-titled album was a critical and financial disappointment and led to the break-up of the band and Amos’ re-evaluation of his career priorities.

The rest, as one might say, is his story. YOU was a critical favorite, putting Amos at the forefront of the ’90s female singer-songwriter movement, where she bridged the gap between Sarah McLachlan’s atmospherics and the more confrontational approach of Courtney Love or Kat Bjelland. Critics may have insisted on the so-called flowery arrangements and melodramatic lyrics, but no one could deny the power of songs like “Me & a Gun” or “Cornflake Girl.”

Call it a happy coincidence that his latest tour kicks off 30 years after the release of his solo debut. Amos’ third date ocean to ocean The tour took her to the Smart Financial Center on Saturday night. It was her first show in Houston in 15 years, and based on audience reaction, she was missed.
Flanked by bassist Jon Evans and drummer Ash Soan, Amos played her trusty Bösendorfer and multiple keyboards in the horse-riding style that has long been her trademark. She opened the night with “Juárez”, an experimental number by To Venus and back about murdered woman maquiladora workers. And if that was somehow disappointing to people who were hoping for a nostalgic tour, so much the better.

click to enlarge "bouncing off the clouds" - PHOTO BY PATRICK ALCALA

“Bouncing off the Clouds”

Photo by Patrick Alcala

To our credit, the reaction to the next song (“Bouncing Off Clouds”) was strong enough to cause Amos to exclaim, “What a night! What a crowd!” before inviting us to come on a trip with the aforementioned Bösendorfer. This sentiment was applauded by many people who I can only assume have never had the pleasure of moving a grand piano.

His show was also a reminder that he’s never really gone. Despite the lack of Houston dates, Amos still tours regularly and releases albums that consistently chart well. That said, the set drew heavily on her previous efforts, even when her latest album was the best represented.

Those ocean to ocean entries included the haunting title track and three other cuts (“Devil’s Bane” and “Addition of Light Divided”, in particular). No other album saw more than two songs played, and that was without his excellent cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

And even reaching 60, her mezzo-soprano voice is still capable of everything from a whisper to, well, not exactly a scream. A growl, perhaps? Much of the power of her songs comes from the directness with which she delivers lines like “You’ve been wasting all my time this time” (“Doughnut Song,” which still includes her call from Houston). While “Crucify” and “Tear in Your Hand” were as powerful as ever.

Amos can be a challenge, honestly. Mixed time signatures, difficult themes, piano aerobics. There’s a reason fans of his are as…enthusiastic as they are. In this case, at least, his enthusiasm is justified. It’s hard to remember a recent live performance as virtuosic as Tori Amos’.

The 21st century began with 9/11 and ushered in our militaristic new normal, with nu-metal and generic bro rock pushing Amos and his contemporaries out of the spotlight. It’s a testament to her talent and resilience (and her cunning in moving to England) that Tori Amos remains as powerful a performer as she is. Last night’s concert lasted just under two hours, but she could have played three and no one would have said boo.

click to enlarge I wish the gang could see us now.  - PHOTO BY PATRICK ALCALA

I wish the gang could see us now.

Photo by Patrick Alcala

personal biases: I was a waitress in Maryland in the mid-90s, and one of my regular tables was family friends from the Amos clan. It took me a while to realize who they were talking about when they kept referring to “Ellen.”

The crowd: Tattoos really are forever, right?

Heard in the crowd: “I have a Lilith Fair playlist.”

Random notebook dump: “Paraphrase the freshman: she’s kind of a genius.”

bouncing off the clouds
ocean to ocean
liquid diamonds
take to heaven
Famous Blue Raincoat (Leonard Cohen cover)
donut song
Split Light Addition
Black Dove (January)
devil’s bane
sweet sangria
cornflake girl

tear in your hand

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