Here’s a tip if you want to provoke Amanda Palmer to: A - compose a song for you that could well go viral; B - spontaneously de-robe on stage or C - deliver a show that explodes with typical Amanda Palmer chaos. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to see the former The Dresden Dolls lead singer do any of the above?
According to the lady herself, the trick is to bombard her on Twitter, on her blog, in a bar, at a show – use whatever means you can – and unload. Tell her what’s getting your goat, which burning issues are keeping you up at night, and chances are she’ll compose a song on the spot addressing those very issues.
The feminist tour de force spoke to Broadsheet ahead of her Sydney Festival 10-day residency at the Spiegeltent; with the UK Daily Mail incident, which saw her enact option B. above, fresh in her mind.
Performing in London, the American pioneer of punk cabaret vented her anger at a Daily Mail review of her show at the Glastonbury Festival. Headlined Making a Boob of Herself! the article focused solely on the fact that a wardrobe malfunction saw her breast escape her bra. Nothing to do with the song, her record, or even her performance. Just her left boob.
Enraged, Palmer composed a one-off song – a waltz in fact – in which she slaps down the tabloid for devaluing women and artists. To make her point, the artist stripped off her kimono mid-song and performed the remainder in the nude. It may have been a one-off but thanks to the internet you can check it out here.
The performance was A-grade Palmer. Love her or loath her, and she has her fair share of both, the performer is adept at tapping into the zeitgeist and responding the best way she knows how: in song.
“I’ve evolved into a much more political person out of necessity,” she says. “When I started off I was just a teenage songwriter writing really personal songs, but when you play show after show you realise what’s resonating with people. There was no way when I was 16 years old I was going to pen a letter to a British tabloid, but after countless encounters with women and hearing their frustrations about the media and knowing I had this nice little window where I could give voice to their feelings, I’m not going to waste an opportunity like that to dump it all into a song and proclaim something is happening.”
Another recent occurrence that, while not resulting in Palmer penning a song, saw her loudly voicing her opinion, was the Miley Cyrus twerking incident. In a move that surprised many, Palmer wrote an open online letter supporting Cyrus for having the, ahem, balls to do whatever the heck she pleased on stage, and to hell with the consequences; and to support her in the face of the vicious mostly female backlash.
“God bless Miley Cyrus, whatever her intentions were, it sparked a flame of desire in so many women I’ve talked to who are saying, ‘What the fuck are we doing to each other and how can we fix this and move things forward, instead of dragging each other down?’ It does feel like there’s a window that’s recently opened to change the tenor of the conversation, like a lot of what’s holding us down from moving forward is women criticising other women for not doing it properly. The internet can look like such a negative, narrow-minded, ugly place. But if you actually go face-to-face and interact with people there’s so much more positivity and support than seems apparent.”
Palmer plans to do plenty of interacting when she arrives in Sydney in January. An unabashed fan of Australia – she has toured here annually since 2005 – she even released an album dedicated to this fair country, Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, to be more concise. She says the show will change nightly and will include “lots of special guests, lots of favourites and hopefully lots of surprises which I will hopefully create relatively spontaneously.”
Key to her accepting the Festival gig was the fact that one of her best friends, musician and composer Sxip Shirey, is the musical director of the edgy adult circus cabaret act Limbo which directly precedes Palmer’s show each night. In fact, one of the 50-odd instruments Shirey plays in the show was given to him by Palmer and her husband, British writer Neil Gaiman. Called a ‘sxipenspiel’, it’s made up of a number of bicycle bells attached to a candlestick.
“I’ve never done anything quite like this before,” says Palmer. “I’m hoping to improvise and that includes collaborating with my local friends... I would expect extreme hijinks and cross-collaboration between me and the other people in the Spiegeltent atmosphere. That’s why playing at the tent is always so fun, because magical things happen.”
Amanda Palmer plays The Spiegeltent from January 9-19 at 7.30pm