I've always been prone to voice crushes. In high school, it was a local late night dj that led me stay up all night with my ear pressed to an extremely quiet clock radio. (Apparently, I was immune to the charms of earphones.) In Arizona, there was a rather embarrassing Dave Matthews period, and then Ani and Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker and on and on. Sometimes it's lyrics that sway me and I develop an obsession that leads me to like a voice that is initially unappealing (Corin Tucker), and sometimes it's just the voice itself (Dave Matthews, who I find fairly unappealing physically but who's voice pretty much took over my hormonal responses for a while), and sometimes it's an extremely appealing combination.
My current voice crush is Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. She recently released a solo album (Who Killed Amanda Palmer) that has been on nearly constant playback on my computer for probably the last few weeks. She's one of the most compelling combinations for me: overall smart, funny, moving lyrics, a voice that sucks me in with it's alternating hoarse frenzy and quiet anguish, and on top of that she's an incredibly sexy person. And she plays the piano. And has a penchant for corsets. Dear god.
It's rare but fortuitous when somebody actually comes through town at the height of my obsession. As a slightly late birthday present to myself last night, I went and saw her solo show at the Metro with Tabitha (the one who really got me into the Dolls) in tow. Not only was I incredibly enthused to see her play, but the show ended up being one of the most enjoyable I've ever seen. We missed the opening band but the follow-up was Zoe Keating, the former second cellist from Rasputina. She had a lot of technology hooked up that allowed her to lay down a ground and then layer herself over it, seemingly infinitely. As the layers built up, the music becoming more and more intricate, it also became more beautiful and entrancing. I was so inside of what she was doing, which (ironically) as a musician is something that's become increasingly difficult for me over the years. It has to be pretty damn amazing for my mind not to be wandering off in the direction of the technical aspects.
So that was awesome, and the dj kept coming out to tell us that, sadly, Amanda Palmer (actually, he said Amanda fucking Palmer) was dead and wouldn't be playing. Every time he said that she was dead the audience would cheer and he would chastise us. After a few go-rounds, he announced that some of Amanda's friends had shown up to show their sorrow, and then he introduced: Neil Gaiman. You could see the audience just freak out, like nobody had been anticipating that name to be one announced. Neil Gaiman popped out from backstage and started reading an appropriately strange eulogy of sorts. And then, Amanda Palmer walked right in front of me, wearing a veil and this great corset/skirt outfit. Just to recap: Neil Gaiman is reading, my voice crush is standing right in front of me, and holy shit. Good times. (Re: Neil Gaiman: they're making a book together of photos of Amanda Palmer being dead, so there was some actually reason for him to be there. He also wrote the lyrics to a song that she sang later about googling obsessive crushes on the internet late at night. Sample paraphrased lyrics: "I'm glad your name is so unique/it's just you and a wanna-be PhD from Chesapeake/who writes articles about the makeup of the sun/I must admit I've read every one.")
The concert was off to a good start, obviously, and the music that followed was no letdown. As probably happens a lot when you've spent waaaaaay too much time with an album, many the songs I like most (Ampersand, Blake Says) were not as compelling live, and the songs I've spent less time with (Guitar Hero, Astronaut) rocked my world. As a performer, Palmer is one of the most charismatic and energetic stage presences I've ever seen. She was rocking out on her piano, obviously singing her heart out and having a fantastic time, and I could feel that energy passing into the audience and turning the whole space into the kind of frenetic ecstatic whirlpool. It felt amazing. When she got up for Guitar Hero and brandished a red Fender like the world's best cock-rocker, when she explained the meaning behind Strength Through Music (hint: school shootings), when the entire ensemble (did I mention she had four theatrical backup dancers?) lip-synched to Rhianna's Umbrella and actually did the whole song instead of segueing into something else: these were notable moments in a very impressive show.
The show ended with a cover of Living on a Prayer while the dancers wandered through the audience collecting donations in their own shoes, and then a wild performance of Leeds United complete with fake marching band brass. I went home feeling high from all the energy and even more fully enamored with Amanda Palmer. I wish I could have (or inspire) that kind of emotional response to music more often. TimeOut Chicago's pre-review of the concert was less than amazingly complementary: "She’s a gifted, heart-on-sleeve performer who’s clearly dedicated to her craft—then again, so are the most committed players in a high-school theater troupe." And I say, so what? Maybe we need to have more of that insane desire and love in our art. Long live the high-school theater troupe.