BROOKLYN, NY—Amanda Palmer strolled onstage to introduce her backing band for her current U.S. tour, Nervous Cabaret, just before they opened the concert with a solo set. Though it was unusual to see a headliner steal her own thunder, that’s how Palmer is: Down-to-earth and eager to help out her fellow musicians. It also didn’t detract from the spectacle when she—singing into a bullhorn—paraded through the audience with Nervous Cabaret and climbed onto the stage to begin her set with “Missed Me.”
Nervous Cabaret has both rock and horn sections, and they played boisterously on their own. But they quieted down for Palmer, letting the charismatic singer and her keyboard take center on songs like the eerie “Astronaut” and jazzy “Mandy Goes To Med School.” And she was certainly electric in a concert she subsequently described as one of the best of her life on Twitter. Drawing from both her Dresden Dolls and solo repertoire as well as eclectic covers, she sang and played the piano passionately and gracefully, and spontaneously altered the melodies of her songs. Wearing the word “yes” scrawled across her chest and alternating between dramatic stares and gleeful grins, Palmer was as interesting to see as to hear.
Other songs rocked out more, including “Leeds United” and a terrific cover of the Ting Tings’ “That’s Not My Name” featuring Franz Nikolay (World/Inferno Friendship Society, The Hold Steady) on accordion and Sxip Shirey on found objects.
The one disappointment was a softer, more piano-heavy mix than the album version of “Guitar Hero.” Although it was interesting to hear an at-ease rendition that highlighted the comforts of virtual reality escape, the song works much better as an cathartic rock ‘n’ roll stomper about anxiety over the scary real world.
Palmer also played three songs solo, and they were among the most haunting performances of the night. A cover of Dillie Keane’s “Look Mummy, No Hands” demonstrated the Dresden Doll’s narrative skill. Her near-whispered delivery of this song about a protagonist missing her dead mother felt intimate and moving.
As excellent as Palmer’s cabaret-punk music is, her talk segments were even more entertaining and memorable. She has a warm, spontaneous personality that imbues her shows with a party atmosphere, and fans feel close to her because of her openness and outreach to them. Mere minutes into “Missed Me,” someone shouted “I love you!” and got both the audience and Palmer herself laughing. The Internet DIY queen spent much of her MCs bantering with the audience, responding not just to party invites but Twitter requests. (She said the stage is a sacred, Tweet-free space, but the toilet is not.) She described a minor car accident on the way to Brooklyn (“It was awesome”), hosted an “Ask Amanda” segment in which she admitted she hadn’t read all of boyfriend Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and read a story from her coffee table book, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Because Palmer borrowed an autographed one from the merchandise table, Nervous Cabaret trombonist Sam Kulik asked her if she had signed her own copy of her book. After explaining it wasn’t hers, Palmer ran with the joke and said she autographed her possessions in her apartment for fun. “My sink’s autographed by Amanda Palmer!” she swooned.
After the concert ended, fans lined up to meet Palmer and Gaiman. No word on whether anyone brought a sink to sign.