No one plays the piano like Tori Amos. She arches her back forward, always ready to kick her foot up or straddle the seat. During the Chicago performance of her world tour for 2007’s American Doll Posse, a concept album in which she channeled five different fictional characters and easily the most interesting work she’s done since 2001’s Strange Little Girls, she came out in a blond bob wig and pounded on the instrument like she meant to break it. The effect was a welcome return to ’90s Tori: In her best work, even when she’s being precious, there’s an underlying force and anger that threatens to shatter everything into little pieces.
There’s a lot of precious music on Amos’s latest, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, but not so much of the force that made Little Earthquakes a masterpiece. For some years now, the singer hasn’t known how—or hasn’t tried—to self-edit, either on stage or record. (As good as the 23-song American Doll Posse was, it was about five songs too long.) At Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, she played an exhausting, 20-song setlist that sampled her whole career and fizzled by the time she got to the three-song encore. A few of her tried-and-true classics, like “Winter,” seemed laboriously slow. Or maybe her heart wasn’t in it: She saved most of her energy for newer material like “Big Wheel” and “Strong Black Vine,” a typically fraught, Bible-alluding ditty rape that was given new life in its live incarnation. That same sense of urgency provided the night’s best moments, including an intimate cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Either way, none of the thirtysomething, mostly gay fans in attendance seemed to mind. They inappropriately sashayed to “Precious Things” and walked up to the stage, ostensibly to get a closer look at Amos’s ridiculously hot outfit: a kimono-like dress with fringe sleeves and leather tights. It’s a truism within the gay and lesbian community that Amos is one of those things we can all agree on, like purebred dogs.
She stopped halfway through her set to share an anecdote about auditioning at piano bars in the city because, she said, “I feel like it.” When you have Amos’s kind of cult devotion after 17 years, you do what you want. That has made her output, like her TV appearances, unpredictable and sometimes worrying. It’s never clear if she’s entirely in control, or just off her rocker. But it’s also hard to imagine anyone else who could make “M-I-L-F” into a convincing pop chorus. And isn’t that reason enough to listen?