Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra - Queen Margaret Union
Live Review

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra – Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow

Amanda Palmer is more than just a singer. She is an all round entertainer whose cabaret style, highly dramatic, rock shows just have to be seen to be believed. And last night she showed exactly why she is such a sought after live performer on an exhilarating night of music and theatre.

This show was moved up to a larger venue, Glasgow University’s Queen Margaret Union, which has a capacity of 900. And the fact that it had sold out was evident from the long queues outside the building, showing the power of Palmer’s attraction. Much of the attention that the former Dresden Dolls singer receives comes through her great use of social media, and Twitter was buzzing for this one.

On entering the large hall (press passes are useful for skipping queues) the first clue that this would be a very different night was the seven piece brass band playing at the back of the hall. Turns out that the Horndog Brass Band from Edinburgh would play a large part in the night’s entertainment. And watching the band was bassist Jherek Bischoff, dressed in a dinner suit. Yes, a different sort of night.

Not too long afterwards Bischoff appeared on stage as the opening act, introduced by Amanda Palmer clad in a dressing gown. She had clearly taken time out from her preparations to open the evening by welcoming fans and received a great welcome from the rapidly filling venue. Bischoff played a short set, backed in part by the Horndog Brass Band, showing his great skills on bass and ukulele. He also has a very decent voice and the highlight was Eyes, a track written by David Byrne for Young And Lovely, the solo album that Bischoff has recently released.

Next on stage were The Simple Pleasure, led by Palmer’s guitarist Chad Raines. A short set of rock and dance music followed, getting the now large crowd well warmed up for the main act. Raines took the main vocals backed by one of the two keyboard players who had a lovely contrasting female voice. Jherek Bischoff continued his busy night by playing bass on the opening song and the set closed with the impassioned Tracy, which was superb. Oh and a pink flamingo was passed around the crowd during the set and returned to the stage at the end. It was that sort of night.

Amanda Palmer and her band burst onto the stage and began by throwing flowers into the crowd. A packet of chocolate biscuits sailed onto the stage in return. And then the entertainment started.

Backed by the Horndog Brass Band and with a full rock band on stage too, Amanda Palmer took to the keyboards. Her voice is low and powerful, as it had to be with such accompaniment. It is difficult to describe Palmer in full flow: think part female David Bowie, part diva with a splash of gothic humour and a lot of punk energy. Add in some great rock songs with darkly humorous lyrics and you might be coming close.

Much of the set came from Palmer’s most recent album Theatre Of Evil, for which she raised over $1M in donations to make. Smile and The Killing Type were superb, as was the Dresden Dolls’ Missed Me. Backed in the main by Michael McQuilken on drums and the hardworking Chad Raines (guitar, keyboards, vocals and banjo) and Jherek Bischoff (bass and guitars), Palmer alternated between the keyboards and the centre stage mic. The music was superb and the theatre was well worth watching.

Mid set the band left the stage. Palmer stood at her keyboard and opened a small box into which fans had been asked to place their deepest secrets. She then read out many of the horrific tales, including those of rape, abuse and self harm, to a shocked crowd. Powerful doesn’t begin to describe the performance which served as an introduction to The Bed Song, a beautifully painful number.

On a similar theme, Palmer sung a wonderfully soft and tender cover of Belle and Sebastian’s The Chalet Lines, played on the ukulele. It was the first time she had ever played this song about a rape and it was very well received.

The set continued as the band came back and the pace picked up once more. Instruments were swapped around, costumes changed and a dramatic crowd surf with a massive dress train that trailed back to the stage followed. It should be noted that Palmer did not miss a single note as she continued singing above the crowd.
Her own song Leeds United was a stirring performance before every musician who had played a part in this great night came onto stage for the big finale. All lined up for a mass bow, theatre style, to tremendous applause.

There was an encore – and of course it was different. Shortly after leaving the stage Amanda Palmer and her band appeared on the balcony. Using a megaphone she produced a superb version of the old standard St James Infirmary Blues, every inch the dramatic night club siren, before the final Want It Back. It was a suitably theatrical way to end the night.

And sometime after the show I’m told that Amanda Palmer and her band played a couple of songs outside the venue for fans who had waited around for autographs. Her ukulele cover of Radiohead’s Creep will surely turn up on YouTube.

Amanda Palmer has to be seen to be believed. This was a fine musical display but it was the amazing performance that went along with it that made this such a memorable night. No one who witnessed her peerless display will forget it in a hurry.

Share this!