Avant-garde US pianist, singer-songwriter and composer Tori Amos has reinvented herself on each of her 12 solo albums. Her latest release is no different – and local fans will have the chance of a lifetime to experience her talent in person on Thursday.
Known as an artist keen to try new things and challenge convention at every turn, Amos is living up to her reputation of continual metamorphosis by taking her latest album, Night of Hunters, on tour to countries and cities that have never before been privy to her extraordinary live shows.
Russia, Norway and South Africa are a few of the chosen first-time stops where she promises to compile a new set list informed by each destination, its history and current reality.
“Being in tune with the energy of a city and its people is part of the dramatic apex I look for,” Amos explains. “A good show is when the audience feels that I’ve taken them to another place, without them having left their chairs.”
The South African leg of her tour includes three sold-out shows ending tonight at Theatre of Marcellus at Emperor’s Palace in Joburg, followed by a single night at the Grand Arena at GrandWest in Cape Town on Thursday.
Since the release of her 1992 solo debut, Little Earthquakes, Amos’s profile has continued to grow around the world, but initially it was the UK that championed her singular brand of piano-based storytelling. (Today she divides her time between Cornwall, and Florida in the US.)
Throughout her celebrated career, the North Carolina-born artist has tackled a plethora of themes ranging from difficult subjects like rape to whimsical ones like beekeeping. From earlier singles Crucify, Silent All These Years and Professional Widow to her most successful US hit, A Sorta Fairytale, Amos has continued to lay herself bare and share her cathartic journey over the last two decades.
In more recent years she’s focused her creative energy on writing and recording concept albums, the first of which was 2001’s Strange Little Girls, inspired by the birth of her daughter Natashya “Tash” Lórien Hawley.
“Music has always been healing for me, ever since I was little,” she admits. “I can really be in pain, then listen to or play music, and I feel… ease. I feel the music play me, so that I become an instrument that it plays.”
This notion of creative inversion comes up again when she explains that new ideas come to her, rather than her setting out to find them. “I’ve never consciously gone looking,” she says.
“It’s more a case of each song I write pushing me to stay open.
“I’ve never been able to simply pick a topic and write about it. I know of writers that watch others and write about what they see. I’m not good at doing that. I have to experience it first-hand. I must taste and feel it. If you don’t know the language of your subject, you simply cannot tell the tale.
“Writing and composing this way drives me in different ways. When I am in the thick of it, that’s when the magic happens. At the risk of sounding ‘new age’, I see myself as more of a medium, a scribe.”
Although Amos is not in South Africa with her current classical quartet, her trusty trademark Bösendorfer piano has come along, and with it the promise of an intimate affair.
“When I play alone it gives me room that makes the whole experience a lot more extreme,” she hints. “I don’t, as I do with my quartet, play to the page. At these shows, before each performance, I meet and greet people coming to the show and get a sense of just where the audience is at on that particular day.”
So it follows that no live performance of hers is predictable. She says she prefers to pull the narrative together in the moment – and even so, she tends to talk very little on stage.
“It’s important to me to be very present in order to be able to put in contextual story form what’s happening in the world around us,” she explains.
“I choose the songs that don’t need much more, and then the whole experience becomes complementary. You have to stay open to the audience because it’s a conversation, an emotional one, which, if I play my cards right on the night, makes the whole experience magical for everyone – including me.”
Her new album, released on the Deutsche Grammophon label, pays tribute to the likes of Debussy, Granados, Satie, Schubert, Bach and Chopin – further proof that standing still or recycling old ideas is not her style.
She says she travels often, “if only to keep myself from falling into a repetitive cycle.
The more I see and experience, the more enlightened I become and the music flows from there.”
l Tickets for Tori Amos’s Grand Arena performance on Thursday cost between R395 and R695. T obook, call Computicket at 0861 915 8000.