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Music Preview: Tori Amos takes a 'Walk' through America

Friday, March 14, 2003

By Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend Editor

The only pyrotechnics at a Tori Amos show come from the flame-haired singer-pianist and her hot little rhythm section.

Tori Amos

WITH: Rhett Miller.

WHERE: A.J. Palumbo Theater, Uptown.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

TICKETS: $37.50; 412-323-1919.

ARTIST'S SITE: www.toriamos.com

DETAILS: WYEP-FM (91.3) will present a live broadcast of a discussion and interview with Tori Amos from a private, sold-out event at Club Cafe at 1 p.m. Sunday.


But Amos, who arrives at the A.J. Palumbo Sunday, likens her concerts to the tribal fires of primitive or ancient civilizations.

"The idea is that there's a metaphorical fire that you come to every night, like you would have in the old days," she says. "You come to ceremony and bring with you from the day, your troubles, information you've heard, misinformation you've heard, to try and make some kind of sense of what's going on in the world, like they did in the old days, but we just have a lot more information -- or misinformation -- thrown at us."

So don't search the Internet in advance for the set list. Every night is going to be a new experience, she says, beginning with a Wampum prayer.

"I don't know what it is until about 30 minutes before the show, depending on the news on the wire, depending on the letters backstage, and I string the songs together based on the information to then play it out symbolically through the music."

More than likely, Amos' current shows are focused around her seventh and latest record, "Scarlet's Walk," another outing that can carry listeners away with its gorgeously flowing melodies. Thematically, Amos describes it as a sonic novel that explores America in the wake of 9/11 from the point of view of a character named Scarlet who encounters other strong female characters on her trek.

" 'Scarlet's Walk' is very much about the inside affecting the outside, the outside affecting the inside," Amos says, speaking from a coffee shop in a Detroit mall. "We're personally involved in our nation. We're all personally involved, if you're half awake. What I'm seeing across the nation now is people refusing to turn it over to our leaders anymore, because the trust is gone. No one is quite sure what the agenda is anymore; the people I'm seeing are getting involved in ways I haven't seen in a long time."

Amos, who was in New York on 9/11 and now splits time between England and South Florida, saw a profound spiritual change in the way Americans relate to America.

"A lot of people didn't feel anything of America as a soul, like the Native Americans have been nurturing since the beginning. But when the twins went down, for the first time, for many of us, she became alive, bleeding, burning. And in the death, all the human death, the soul of the country was alive, crying out. It's very different from 'We are Americans, these are our forefathers, the patriarchy.' What about the land? The mother land. Our divine mother. You know what, the French understand this. They understand that France is different than the French and the governing body. Same with the Irish. We haven't had a relationship like that with our land."

As for Scarlet, Amos says, "the whole journey is that she becomes a physical mother and realizes, in the end, that to mother her daughter, to leave her anything, she has to mother her spiritual mother, which is America, personified by Amber Waves and the other women on the record."

What "Scarlet's Walk" doesn't do is reveal itself as an obvious concept album. Amos handles everything with a subtle touch and a typically abstract lyrical approach. Amos says people can enjoy the album on any level they choose.

"It's none of my business how people listen. I'm not dictatorial, like, 'Listen to it like this.' Maybe I was like that years ago. It's none of my business what people do with the music. They have their own relationship with the songs. I'm the librarian. The songs work as individual short stories. But this is a narrative and if you want to look at it like that, it works on that level, too. I wrote a work that if you want to take it as far as you can, the blueprints and architecture are there."

Not coincidentally, this is Amos' first record of new material since she became a mother to Natashya Lorien, who is now 2 and with her on tour. Needless to say, motherhood has made a big impact on the singer-songwriter.

"I guess in ways that I can't even measure it, because I changed so completely," Amos says. "Mainly because I guess I was ready for it. I've had a few miscarriages and the loss of it was humbling, how fragile life is. By the time I became a mother I sort of put being a mother first. While I was pregnant, I played a lot of music but I stopped working. I had to change my life and my rhythm, because I couldn't hold life inside. My pace was not right. And so I just devoted everything to carry this life."

Amos, whose work has looked inward for much of her career, already sees that being a mom and a mature woman could change all that.

"It is looking more outward now," she says. "I think maybe that's what happens when you're looking outward to make decisions for your child. Before, when you're a writer, a poet in your 20s, like 'Little Earthquake,' you're finding out who you are. Once you're 40 you kind of need to know that. There needs to be an exchange for the lines on your face."

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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