Tori Amos: Live At Montreux

Tori Amos: Live At Montreux (1991)
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Cast: Tori Amos

Alright, I'm just going to come out and say it: I married a redhead because I used to have a serious thing for Tori Amos. Glad I got that off my chest after 16 years. Of course, Tori ended up being a cementing block in our relationship when we were still dating. I knew I had the right gal when my wife surprised me with Ramones tickets back in 1993 and since then has made it a bone of contention to declare rights to the Tori Amos catalog in our segregated music collections. Since I had "Under the Pink" and she "Little Earthquakes" when we met, I knew this was going to be a hotly-contested friendly feud (which I've won, nyeh nyeh) that was at least held in check when we saw Tori Amos play in Baltimore on Tori's brilliant "From the Choirgirl Hotel" tour, which included a full band for the first time at that point in Tori's enduring career.

We often babbled amongst each other how cool it would've been to see Tori in her formative years as a solo artist, considering she could make teenage girls with paper wings taped to their backs weep with joy and many of us roughneck headbangers quietly declare affinity, much as we'd called one another pussies for saying "Silent All These Years" was cool. Well, considering Tori's grandmother reportedly called the breakout song "shit" according to Tori Amos in her 1992 performance at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival, then we can take thusly comfort in our agro manhood

Fact of the matter is, Tori Amos is a little bit of headbanger and punk rocker beneath her stunning red locks and calliope-provoked fingertips. Combative, snarling and full-on jaded from life, Tori Amos is the sweetest cherub to twinkle a piano and breathily chirp into our ears, but within the same strokes, she can mosh it up with the best of 'em. Sample her improbable take on Slayer's "Raining Blood" or Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or her passionate Led Zeppelin covers. There's a reason Tori Amos is lumped into the rock category and on her newest DVD "Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992," the enigmatic keyboardist straddles the stool of her past with the confidence and swagger of Jerry Lee Lewis and a sweltering vulnerability masqueraded inside hatred and loathing that reveals itself when Tori builds up a heat stroke of anxiety onstage. Her svelte figure and exigent stance while hammering the urgent notes of "Precious Things" is as exciting as watching future piano pounder Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls go nuts in her own droogish way. While both women could be just as comfortable happily belting out nouveau cabaret, it's Tori Amos' conflicted combustible fury and underlying sophistication that still makes her the leading character of her form.

Watching Tori's career unfurl on "Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992," we see a somewhat bashful though still concentrated performer morph into a commanding artist who turns estrogen into testosterone with randomly conflagrating pupils and ribald though truthful lyrics. Tori is the ultimate seductress of her craft and her exchange with her audiences in both of these sets reveals the strength of her inner being gestated from her legendary rebellion out of Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory. During the 1992 concert, she actually confronts people talking during her performance.

Over time, Tori's emotional outlay has erupted through jilted relationships ("Boys For Pele" just may be the most hateful non-metal album ever recorded) and a willful expression of anger towards the world. Much as Tori Amos has the gift to charm and allure while performing, one hazards to chance her pain has made Tori a guarded being, even when letting herself gyrate and grind to her music as if making love to a ghost from her past. It lends her aura a graceful mysticism on top of dripping eroticism.

The way Tori delivers "Crucify" in both sets varies and it's her 1992 performance that reveals a Tori Amos already in control of her stage persona, so much she toys with the crowd as well as the song itself, altering the timing just enough to be playful and possessive. When Tori gently swims in reverie, she has the interchanged capacity to gnash her teeth and let her susceptibility show. Her music is highly personal, densely contemplative and harshly accusatory. One has to imagine what Tori felt like in 1991 when she diffidently informs her audience she's used to playing her songs in her living room instead of on a global platform where the legends of rock, blues and jazz have all been before her. Only a year later, one can tell that almost timid siren has been through much and her buoyancy is jacked in full. Tori delivers the instrument-less "Me and a Gun" with self-assurance, having tied her flowing red hair into a ponytail out of revolt to her complaining then-boyfriend. Already Tori Amos is a woman of steel at this point, and she had yet to record the demonstrative "Under the Pink."

As Tori Amos continues to generate music, including some hard rock blasting modes on her latest album "American Doll Posse," one has to assume she's dialed into her own zone, one which her core audience will obediently follow, paper wings and all. Sometimes that haughty spark of young wrath trickles into "Scarlet's Walk" and especially "American Doll Posse," but slipping back in time with "Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992," the Tori Amos who escaped the pop rock mire that could've been with Y Kant Tori Read is transfigured from shy girl to poster child of alternative rock antagonism. The fact Tori once played piano in her father's Methodist church leads to a zillion questions about her persona, many of which are answered on Tori's albums and if you look closely enough, they'll unfurl themselves before your eyes on "Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992." Something significant had to inspire "Crucify" and "God." Tori's beauty and musical grandeur is superseded only by her contempt for conventionalism.