|Tori Amos - Welcome to Sunny Florida|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 18 May 2004|
At one point during a between-song moment from this concert DVD, Tori Amos speaks about how the music business once tried to mold her into your typical piano-playing, singer/songwriter. But the feisty and independent-minded Amos will never be confused with Billy “Piano Man” Joel or Elton “Candle in the Wind” John, that’s for darn sure. The closest template for what Amos does is British eccentric Kate Bush, due to their shared personality traits and vocal mannerisms. But having grown up in the American Bible Belt South of North Carolina, there is a Grand Canyon’s difference between the cultural upbringings of Britain’s Bush and America’s Amos. Amos will always be one of a kind.
But with all that said, Amos comes off fairly normal – for lack of a better term – on this simple concert video presentation. When you compare this DVD to, say, a past CD photo that showed Amos breastfeeding a live piglet, one guesses almost anything would appear more conventional. Instead of such striking visual images, Amos is presented here either fronting the tiny band of a bass player and a drummer, or just accompanying herself on piano. Oh yes, and singing her heart out, too.
Just in case you never noticed this before, Amos can sure write some intriguing narratives, such as the abrasive lyrics to “Father Lucifer” and “Professional Widow.” But if you focus on her musicality, instead of her odder-than-odd lyrics, she can actually sound fairly conventional. Her soft piano playing transforms “Cloud on my Tongue” into something that can be likened to a lullaby, and then she turns around and makes the intro for “Cooling” into something almost classical. In further stark contrast, her rambling notes for “Leather” give this tune an old-time ragtime feel, whereas “Sugar” features Amos piano-power-chording her way through it, much like a rock guitarist would do. “Father Lucifer” is lightly funky and just a little jazzy to boot.
The title of this DVD is intended to be ironic, by the way, since some of its pre-concert shots show rain pouring down on this event’s venue, the Sound Advice Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Florida. Its name comes from a sarcastic remark by one of the roadies. Well, so much for Florida’s sunshine reputation, eh?
Instead of just showcasing a collection of live performances, this DVD is sequenced exactly like an actual concert would play out. It begins with intimate shots of Amos playing with her little girl before the show, and also finds her going through a few pre-show rituals with her band and crew. The concert itself opens with “A Sorta Fairytale,” and ends with “Precious Things.” This last song, however, is divided from “Tombigbee,” which is the first selection in a three-song encore – just the way it would have been ordered, had you -- the listener/viewer -- actually been there. “Tombigbee” is also one of six songs included on a bonus studio CD, which also comes included in this concert package.
One characteristic Amos might have in common with Mr. Joel and Mr. John is that she is a also a dedicated touring troubadour. “People ask me when I’m going to get back to my real life,” she says at one point. “This is my real life!” Elsewhere, she states: “You cannot become something that you’re not.” In other words, Amos believes that being the traveling minstrel is her life’s true calling. And from the looks of the fans interviewed outside the arena before her show, she certainly attracts some intriguing followers. Much like Deadheads a generation or two before them, these diehards take great pride in attending great numbers of Tori Amos shows. These characters range from pink-haired punkettes to effeminate-voiced men to overweight truckers. It takes all kinds, one supposes.
The bonus feature section of this package includes a Tour Yearbook, which finds Amos photographed in almost every performance pose imaginable. It also seemingly shows off every piece of clothing in Amos’ wardrobe. It’s strange to go from looking at Amos onstage in the kind of lacy stuff Stevie Nicks has made so popular, to viewing her in just a plain t-shirt and jeans (presumably during a sound check or rehearsal). Of course, Nicks would never be caught dead dressed quite so casually. But then again, Nicks wears her gypsy getup almost like a uniform.
For her concert stage set, however, Amos is not nearly so adventurous. Except for the blueish background behind her, there aren’t a whole lot of visual elements to her shows. To her credit, however, Amos is confident enough to let her music do the most – if not all -- of the talking. Except for a sign that says “Roadhouse Café,” which appears above her head periodically, this is almost a completely song-focused video endeavor. Bravo, girl!
If you want a taste of Amos’ well-documented trippy side, just take a listen and look at this DVD’s bonus interview segment. In it, she uses such wide-ranging analogies as Native American culture, science and even geometry to help describe where her artistic muse comes from. It’s also fascinating to watch an interview segment with Tori’s mom, also included here. Amos looks strikingly like her mother, who has a whole lot more of that soft North Carolina Southern accent in her voice. In this section, Amos’ mom tells how Amos’ gift was a god-given one, which revealed itself way back when the artist was but a small child. “I’ve always been moved by her music and wisdom and joy she gives to me,” she says warmly at one point. “We get such truly moving letters, my husband and I,” she later enthuses. In the end, you just know that this mom truly loves her daughter.
If nothing else, Tori Amos’ music is all about showing how things aren’t always the way they appear. And just as sunny Florida isn’t always sunny, the shiny-faced Amos oftentimes masks a stormy personality behind that beatific visage. Also, there’s more to what she does than just playing pretty piano parts and singing sweetly. Songs like the aforementioned “Father Lucifer” help to make this point abundantly clear, since these works are far from any kind of musical child’s play.
“Welcome to Sunny Florida,” while by no means the document of a particularly eventful concert in Amos’ career, is nevertheless a fine showcase of what she does best. It’s approximately two hours of singer-(off-center)-songwriter music, by a woman who never will fit nicely and neatly into any pre-prepared pop music categories. Welcome to Tori Amos’ sunny/stormy world. Just be prepared for every kind of weather.