Judge Gordon Sullivan had enough guilt to start his own religion, but redeemed it for cool cash prizes.
Our review of Tori Amos: Live At Montreux 1991-1992 (Blu-Ray), published December 4th, 2008, is also available.
"There's no other film that exists from that time. This is the only document. This is it"—Tori Amos on Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992
I first got into Tori Amos around the release of To Venus and Back. After that I picked up the rest of her catalog and was immediately impressed with the sheer visceral power of her words and music. Little Earthquakes quickly became my favorite because of its directness and overpowering intimacy. As the 21st century rolled around, I found myself drifting away from Amos' music, as records like Scarlett's Walk and American Doll Posse moved farther and farther away from that intimacy that I appreciated so much in her early work. Through the years I've also heard that seeing Amos live was a singular experience. Because of this, I was quite happy to hear that Eagle Rock was releasing a DVD of two Little Earthquakes-era shows. The two sets on Tori Amos: Live at Montreux 1991 & 1992 easily surpassed my expectations for what Tori Amos was capable of in a live setting.
• "Silent All These Years"
This show was recorded before Amos had cut Little Earthquakes. It's fairly obvious that the crowd has never heard of her, although there is polite applause. In this setting Amos seems entirely unselfconscious. She warms up for the first few songs, and it seems as if she's unaware of the audience or the stage, like she's singing just for herself. When she finally acknowledges the audience, it's almost as shocking as the intimacy of her songs. For those who've only heard the (often melancholy) music, it's hard to imagine a broad grin breaking out over Tori's face as she launches into "Leather," but on this video it seems perfectly appropriate. She even forgets a word in "Happy Phantom," laughs about it with the audience, and then continues with the rest of the song. She seems so bright, and her performance comes off as weightless. The set list is almost perfect—all the "hits" from Little Earthquakes, plus some B-sides and a surprisingly effective Led Zeppelin cover. That last one is performed as an encore, and Amos seems genuinely surprised that she's called back.
• "Little Earthquakes"
This set was recorded after Amos' album was released, and it's obvious from the audience's enthusiastic clapping as she enters the stage that they're familiar with her. But it's not only the audience that has changed. The release of an album and a year of touring have had an effect on Amos as well. Gone is the bright, unselfconscious performer of 1991, replaced with a darker, more confident, and somehow more melancholy figure. Her newfound confidence is immediately apparent. Only a few lines into opener "Little Earthquakes" she stops and stares at an audience member. She asks him or her if they came to talk or to listen, and adds that since they paid so much money they should listen. Her confidence shows in her between song banter as well. The previous show only included a few asides, but in 1992 Amos seemed more willing to introduce her songs. The highlight of this show is easily Amos' performance of "Me And A Gun." The song's harrowing intimacy is reproduced effectively, even in the larger live setting. However, in this performance the song has a confrontational edge to it, as if Amos wants to bludgeon the audience with her honesty and openness. I also enjoyed hearing her version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" live, because it highlights the dynamics of Cobain's words, which often get lost in the distorted guitars when performed by Nirvana. Amos' performance gives the song a weight that Nirvana could rarely match.
On a more general note, the songs on these two sets will be familiar to listeners. I didn't notice any real changes to lyrics, and the arrangements are not significantly different from those found on the album. However, these songs are not lifeless rehashes of the studio cuts either. Amos changes inflection, emphasis, and timing, which keeps the songs fresh despite the numerous times I've heard them.
Fans couldn't ask for more on the technical front. The video is crystal clear, and "pops" in a way few concerts (especially ones this small-scale) can manage. My only complaint about the video quality is that it is so good it makes me want a Blu-ray version of this show. The audio is just as good as the video. I listened on both surround speakers and a set of good headphones and was continually impressed by the clarity and fidelity of the recording. The audio also strikes an effective balance between performer and audience. When she stops, the crowd's applause doesn't immediately overpower the speakers, which is nice. The only extra is an essay in the liner notes by Mark Blake, which features some comments from Amos. I would have liked some interview footage with Amos herself, but these shows are so good I feel bad complaining about the lack of extras.
The only reason this disc doesn't get a perfect score is that I don't think it's going to convince anyone to love Amos who doesn't already. However, those who are already fans of Tori Amos (especially her early work) need to own this disc. It's that simple. Not guilty.
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