I knew that the ticket said eight o'clock, but since when did that not mean that the show would start at nine. Anyway, on Monday, October 31, I settled into my seat for An Evening With Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer at the front of the Loge section overlooking the stage at The Wilshire Ebell Theatre around 8:45 (Gotta go home and feed the cats and myself after work) among an audience that was silent and in rap attention, directed toward the stage. The Jane Austen Argument were performing their last number and I was sorry I was late, because it was really dynamic. The lead singer, Tom Dickins, had regular clothes on, black pants, shirt...but over these was a black tutu and faerie wings, and while his accompanist on the piano was dressed like a normal woman, the Halloween theme was evident. And his voice was like that of a wounded angel, all quivery, with frequent forays into the falsetto range, and like Amanda, capable of soaring.
Being from Melbourne, he and Jen Kingwell, who form the two halves of the Argument, have been on tour with Amanda Palmer through Australia, and it's easy to see why she picked them. Their expressive use of highly stylized theatrical conventions is very much in the same vein as all of Palmer's projects. Their music is described as anti-folk and punk love but to me it sounded like Brechtian Cabaret style. I would love to hear more from them.
After soaking up a healthy dose of cheers and affection from the audience, she was joined on stage by her husband, writer Neil Gaiman, who received an equal amount of hero-worship from the crowd. They said they'd start with a number and while Neil followed with his first reading of the evening, Amanda would slip into some clothes.
The first number was a sarcasm-laced version of the old standard "Makin' Whoopee". The 1928 song is already dripping with irony, but Amanda and Neil, alternating on the vocals, added both the sardonic and the touching to this version, especially in view of their recent marriage. Mr. Gaiman then entertained us with a reading of a short story about a rusted shut jack-in-the-box, that sat in the children's toy box, undisturbed, for eons. The story revealed details about the family and about the house, but never quite let us know what, exactly, was in the box. He kept us spellbound.
As Amanda reappeared in a black, lacy, see-through ensemble, she and her partner alternated between song and storytelling, with Amanda's lyrics so dense and meaningful they told stories and Neil's arrangement of words and phrases so compelling and intelligent, they sounded like music, one could see the lines of the two artists blur and merge. Very special indeed.
This was the kind of show you can't stop thinking about the next day. The kaleidoscopic tumble of words that come at you, and you can't possibly pick it all up the first time, but so much comes through that it feels cathartic...even for the listener. Amanda sang some of the most special songs from her album Who Killed Amanda Palmer including a throbbingly emotional "Ampersand" and a fevered "Runs In The Family", alternating with Neil reading a gorgeous piece he wrote for The New York Times about the English Halloween versus the American take on the holiday a few years ago, and a couple of dark-themed poems that had you on the edge of your seat.
Neither performer wanted the evening to end, so there were a couple of extra songs, one in which she exorcises the demon memories of being an eccentric child trapped in the seventh grade with boring, normal kids. She gets even by remembering every one of them by name! I'm afraid I related to that one. The free-form style of the night kept it feeling like we were sitting in on them in their living room. They even had a question-and-answer session, fielding inquiries the audience had written on cards before the show began. Neil Gaiman (above) was both shy and charming, and told his tales with a deliciously expressive elocution.
The evening ended with an astonishing ode to the ukulele called "The Ukulele Anthem", which contains such a rapid fire delivery of words and ideas, I was surprised she didn't turn blue by the song's end. I was breathless just listening. There's a great You Tube of this song as she performed it at Occupy Wall Street a few weeks ago. And thus the evening was concluded with a torrential outburst of love and adoration both from the audience and from the performers as well. This is another one that will remain burned in my brain until my end of days.