It is said that Liverpool is a city of movement; that the migration of people and the continuation of cultural ideas are central to this Merseyside metropolitan borough’s history and identity. It, therefore, feels especially fitting that Tori Amos should be playing here tonight in the city’s Philharmonic Hall, a glorious art-deco style Grade II listed building. The American singer-songwriter and virtuoso pianist was born in North Carolina, raised in Maryland, moved to Los Angeles in 1983 to further her musical career, and has now lived in the Cornish part of Devon in the southwest of England since the late ‘90s. Change, development, and perhaps above all, energy, are key to Amos’s artistic being.
Tori Amos is now five dates into her Ocean To Ocean 2023 European tour, its title taken from her sixteenth, and arguably the best in recent memory, studio album which was released in October 2021. The tour will eventually take Amos onto mainland Europe, and Scandinavia, before travelling to Switzerland for the final show in Zurich at the end of April.
In keeping with the protean nature of Tori Amos’s creative spirit the setlist changes every night, often subtle differences but always including some of her most famous tunes, a few new things, some surprises, a request or two, and even the odd cover thrown in for exceedingly good measure. And tonight is absolutely no exception in all of that regard.
Long-term collaborator, bass guitarist Jon Evans and more recent recruit Ash Soan on drums have already taken their respective places on the Philharmonic stage and begun to lay down a most atmospheric introductory groove to what metamorphoses into ‘God’ before Tori Amos makes her ecstatic ethereal entrance. Resplendent in bright red, she takes her place betwixt her Bösendorfer concert grand piano and a bank of keyboards. Over the next couple of hours, Amos alternates between the two, straddling her seat, her sparkling stilettoed feet pounding the pedals whilst her magnificent voice soars up above. It is as visually exciting as it is sonically dramatic.
Tori Amos performs 15 songs in total, each one is drawn from right across her discography. There are two selections from her remarkable, radical 1992 debut album, Little Earthquakes – the religious rage of ‘Crucify’ and her second and final encore, a massive show-stopping rendition of ‘Precious Things’ – and by way of maintaining a perfect symmetry, two from Ocean to Ocean (the album’s dynamic, inspirational title track and a delicious ‘Addition of Light Divided’).
In between those two career staging posts, Tori Amos plunders her turn-of-the-millennium release Scarlett’s Walk, the highlight of which is a beautiful solo reading of the record’s title track, as well as taking solitary readings from another half a dozen of her albums. ‘Little Amsterdam’ from her third release, 1996’s Boys For Pele relocates the original into something that is altogether more sinister and sensual. And the first encore, ‘Take To The Sky’ may well have only been a B-side back in the day but here it is positively transformed by capturing a feral blast of Carole King’s ‘I Feel The Earth Move’ in its vice-like grip.
Tori Amos even bravely takes her life in her own hands by delivering a jaw-dropping interpretation of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein Carousel show tune though perhaps far better known locally as Liverpool Football Club’s signature song. But she had already drawn the sting from any potential accusations of sporting bias by earlier announcing that her husband “is a fucking Gunner” (football parlance for being an Arsenal supporter).
Now more than thirty years into her career, Tori Amos continues to evolve musically and just go her own, irrepressibly unique way. As Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ pipes us all out of the auditorium, the choice of song seems absolutely right and proper.
Concert photo: Simon Godley