Backed by her band, Amos transforms songs

August 06, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

NEW YORK - What a difference a band makes.

Over the past six years, Tori Amos has built both an audience and a reputation through her live show. Performing with just a piano, her concerts seemed to fly in the face of rock's bigger-is-better aesthetic. Heck, she didn't even have an amplifier onstage!

Yet Amos could easily convey the full scope of her music, using her Boesendorfer grand to fill the hall with sound while somehow making the whole thing seem as intimate as a living-room recital. After seeing her, it was hard to imagine her music being presented any other way.

Or so the fans might have thought. But no sooner did Amos take the stage at Madison Square Garden last week than all doubts were washed away. (Amos performs at the MCI Center on Saturday.)

This time, she was anything but alone. Behind her piano sat drummer Matt Chamberlain, churning powerful crosscurrents on his tom toms; to her left stood Steve Caton, wringing anguished, ghostly chords from his guitar; while to her right, Jon Evans played a complicated pattern on the bass. Amos acknowledged the crowd, then sat at the piano and charged into a two-fisted hook from "Precious Things."

It was nothing like the way it used to go. Where Amos' solo version of the song emphasized its drama, using pregnant pauses and abrupt shifts in dynamics to hammer home a lyric, the full-band version had a sweeping, symphonic feel, fueled by the interaction between Amos' powerfully percussive piano and Chamberlain's densely syncopated drumming.

Different as it was, it worked wonderfully, offering up the full force of the song instead of savoring each of its anecdotes individually. And frankly, it couldn't have been more suited to the situation. This was the big-screen, panoramic version of Amos' music, and it filled the Garden as effortlessly and authoritatively as any arena act.

These weren't by-the-book performances, offered note-for-note from the album the way so many do. Instead, the best moments breathed new life into the songs, from the dark, delicious groove of "Cruel" (which found Amos augmenting her piano with synthesizer) to a bright, samba-flavored version of "Raspberry Swirl."

True, she did offer a couple of songs - "Leather" and Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" - as piano solos. But the full-band numbers were the heart of the show, and from the sound of things last week, Amos and her band are only going to get better as the tour progresses.

Tori Amos

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: MCI Center, 601 F St. N.W., Washington

Tickets: $29.50

Call: 202-628-3200 for information, 410-481-7328 for tickets

Sundial: To hear excerpts from Tori Amos' current release, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6119. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2B.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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