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Review: An Evening with Amanda Palmer

Adelaide Fringe

How many musicians does it take to start a revolution? How about one woman and a ukulele? ★★★★★

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With a massive community of fans around the world (including 9000+ who put their money where their mouth is by providing regular support via online site Patreon), it’s a fair bet that Amanda Palmer could get her troops mobilised without breaking a sweat.

The Adelaide squad was out in force on Friday night for the adored Ms Palmer but, after a brief welcome, she retreated to the wings and handed the stage over to her guest opener, Sydney singer-songwriter Brendan Maclean. He wants hugs not drugs, or both, if they’re available, and judging by the reception from the audience he’ll have no shortage of new fans lining up to embrace him.

In a few short songs, and with no accompaniment, Maclean showed off a voice so spectacular it’s a mystery he’s not a household name.

In a further surprise, Palmer’s friend Mikelangelo ducked in to belt out a robust rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love”, before sprinting down to La Boheme for his own Fringe gig.

We were thoroughly warmed up by the time the star of the show’s first song, “In My Mind”, was delivered from high in the dress circle, the singer visible thanks only to a friendly usher with a torch.

It was an unconventional start to an extraordinary set that defied categorisation. We would expect nothing less, though. Palmer is a multi-talented American with a history of being outspoken about her fight against the expectations of an industry whose business model relies on being able to package “product” in a clearly labelled box.

Amanda-Palmer

Over the next two-and-a-half hours we were treated to performances both fierce and tender, a mix of familiar tunes (“Map of Tasmania”, “Vegemite”, “The Bed Song”, “Coin-Operated Boy”) and some new ones. There was even a mass sing-along – the entire audience joining in for the chorus to the heartbreaking “Mother’s Confession”, a song detailing Palmer’s shortcomings as a parent.

She apologised for being under the weather due to illness but if she hadn’t mentioned it we wouldn’t have noticed. Moving between ukulele and piano and back again, Palmer spoke candidly about her life and the way she works, and the freedom she has to make “things” as they move her now she’s no longer shackled by a traditional album production schedule.

There were several well-chosen covers, including an exquisite interpretation of Harry Chapin’s folk classic “Cat’s in the Cradle”. Maclean featured again in two powerful duets, both delivered with almost painful intensity. “Laura” (with Maclean in floor-length black lace shroud) by Bat for Lashes was powerful but John Grant’s “Glacier” was one of the highlights of a night that left us wanting so much more.

The single encore (the “Ukulele anthem”) hammered home the night’s key messages – be brave, live in the moment and embrace difference and imperfection.

An Evening with Amanda Palmer was a trip through the full range of human emotions. Sublime.

Five stars

Amanda Palmer performed at Her Majesty’s Theatre on February 24 and 25 as part of the Adelaide Fringe program.

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