I'm a homebody. I'm pretty committed to being at home, especially in the evening, and getting my sleep in an appropriately Franklinian manner ("early to bed, early to rise.") If something is going to have me out after dinner, it had better be good. Last night, I took Dear Hubby to see An Evening With Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, a multi-media, ukelele-infused evening of songs, stories, and Amanda's new socks (which read "Ninja.") It was more than good. It was precisely what, in my opinion, an evening of entertainment should be -- a celebration of life through the art and expression of talented, fun, funny, imperfect people.
The Aladdin theater seats about 600 people, which lent an air of intimacy and immediacy to the show that you don't get in a big stadium -- it was kind of like being at the high school talent show, with actual talent. I loved being able to see the expressions on everyone's faces as they performed, especially Amanda's as the expressions on her face add details, nuances, sometimes counterpoints, to the stories her songs tell. The songs and stories performed seemed to be designed around a theme of absence, incompleteness, even loss. But if melancholy was an undertone, laughter was the overtone, which was set from the very beginning, when Neil introduced the opening act, The Jane Austen Argument, a duo from Australia. Neil then explained that only half of the opening act was able to perform, as the other half had not been allowed to cross the US border from Canada after their weekend performance, and thus was still in Canada. The half of The Jane Austen Argument that was present then performed both parts -- to great comic effect -- of a duet written by Neil about missing your love. She followed up with "Reunion Song," which was influenced by the fact that she was not invited to her high school reunion, and "Phoenix," a song about anticipating birth/rebirth.
Sometimes Neil and Amanda shared the stage, sometimes Neil read a story, sometimes Amanda performed solo. I think the first thing he read was "The Day the Saucers Came," which is about missing it all, or, if you prefer, it's just about missing the end of the world. "Forgetting Ray Bradbury" was a haunting story about words and stories, about losing them and trying to hold on to them, that Neil wrote and read for Ray Bradbury's ninety-first birthday (Neil enunciated that so clearly, I feel compelled to spell it out in letters.) He also read "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar," in which an American takes a walking tour of the British coastline and drinks his first pint(s) of beer with a couple of odd locals who educate him about Lovecraftian language, only to wake alone the next morning having gained his first hangover but having lost the town he'd been in the night before. Neil had a way of delivering the characters' accents that was almost invisibly there, each character sounded unique while still sounding like Neil and not Neil-trying-to-sound-like-somebody-else. Neil also read "A Nobody's Guide to the Oscars
," a wry look at Hollywood glamour and pomp in the nebula of the anniversary of profound loss.
Amanda came on stage to do several numbers at a time, every delivery powerful and deep. There's something life-affirming about listening to a performer who would never make it to the final round of American Idol (and gods bless her for that) sing about doing what she wants to, and state plainly, "I've already spent too much time doing things I didn't want to." She performed original songs like "Runs in the Family," "The Truth," and "Map of Tasmania," as well as her new song about "the big hole" in her answers to the inevitable question from interviewers "who influenced your work?" I'd seen this one on YouTube last week and it made me cry (twice), and then I cried again last night, it's poignant and beautiful and true, and it's the kind of truth that is so easily overlooked. And it has a punchline in the middle that got a fantastic reaction of laughter and cheers from the audience, so I won't give that away. She also did an amazing cover of "Look Mummy No Hands" by Dillie Keane, and for Neil's birthday she sang Lou Reed's "Caroline Says II" back-to-back with her own "Blake Says."
Neil and Amanda also performed together, particularly hilarious was "Makin' Whoopie," sung by Amanda and deadpanned by Neil. The show went well over three hours (I'm not kidding it's taking me almost that long to write this entry, whoops,) and really was worth every minute. About 11pm Amanda introduced "special guest" John Cameron Mitchell, director of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" who has a decent set of pipes on him, too. He came onto stage in jeans, a t-shirt, and a plaid flannel tied around his waist, he looked more like a skinny college student than a 48-year-old movie director, but who cares about looks, his duets with Amanda were fantastic, and then he and Amanda and Neil sang "Whole Wide World
," again about filling that empty place.
The show ran well over three hours, and I worried that my parents on babysitting duty would fall asleep before we got home, so we bolted out of there during the applause even though Amanda hinted at an encore. It was a really fantastic show, delivering everything I'd hoped for and more. They filmed the whole thing with at least four cameras, I'll be watching to see if they release a DVD. UPDATE:
Looks like they'll be webcasting their final show tonight in Seattle! http://www.whosay.com/neilgaiman/content/143487?code=VVVYdh