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Review: Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra - Theatre is Evil

Palmer's Punk Cabaret Continues in a Slightly Altered Form

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra

Theatre is Evil

8 Ft. Records
Amanda Palmer is a musician and artist both revolutionary and evolutionary. As one half of the Dresden Dolls, she and drummer Brian Viglione created the name and sound known as punk cabaret, a sound she further explored through her solo work. In addition, she has forged a career with a flair for showmanship and sheer theatricality. Her shows with the Dresden Dolls featured acrobats, contortionists and anyone else with a bit of talent to show off.

Her solo tours have featured this as well. One SXSW performance took place in a church, where she began her set with an a cappella rendition of “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” that grabbed the audience and held them for the duration of her showcase. During the tour for Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, we saw a show in Detroit that began with an announcement of her death, followed by a funeral procession that ended with her being lifted from the crowd to perform. And her last Amsterdam performance (being the first since her arrest here), opened with her performing N.W.A.'s "F**k The Police" on a ukulele in her bra and underwear.

Her ukulele has been a part of her ongoing musical evolution as well, finding her at the forefront of the uke punk revolution after performing her "Ukulele Anthem" at various Occupy events. But the story continues.

She has proved to become an expert at marketing and promotion, so much so that it has gained notice from everyone form major publications like Wall Street Journal and Forbes to music industry marketing gurus like former Ministry drummer Martin Atkins. And her latest album, book and tour were funded exclusively by Kickstarter, where her $100,000 goal was reached and eclipsed, ultimately raising well over a million dollars.

Which brings us to the present day, where Palmer is entering a new realm, that of the full-fledged frontwoman, fronting the Grand Theft Orchestra on her latest album, the perhaps not-so-honestly titled Theatre Is Evil on 8 Ft. Records.

Starting with an intro that reminds me of a more theatrical version of the intro to Jane's Addiction's Ritual De Lo Habitual, the album immediately slips into "Smile (Pictures Or It Didn't Happen)," a majestic track that is lush, luscious, luxurious and a host of other "lu" words, setting a big expectation for what's to follow.

The expectations are met and exceeded over the course of the next hour as Palmer presents herself as an almost completely new person from the piano pounding chanteuse who started with the Dresden Dolls, She is alternately a pop star, a swaggering rock and roller and a vaudeville MC in front of a full-blown event, as songs like "The Killing Type" with its Cars-styled guitars (free download) find her attaining the true status of the bold vocalist fronting a band, taking all of its sound and channeling into her, and back out through her vocals and persona.

Amanda Palmer

©Nicole Lucas

Many tracks take broad sweeping soundscapes from the Grand Theft Orchestra that weave effortlessly in and out of more straightforward pop and rock-styled sounds, like "Do It With A Rockstar" (free download) and "Want It Back" (free download) mixes thick shoegaze-inspired dream pop with raw rock-fueled bursts

Elements of the Palmer that has come before remain in tracks like the piano-fueled "Trout Heart Replica" and "Berlin" which are definite remnants of the Who Killed Amanda Palmer Era?, benefitting from the added elements of a band, but still staying just as true to who she was as to who she is.

The album is presented in two acts, in true theatrical form, with the driving dramatic instrumental "A Grand Theft Intermission" splitting the record in half, but not heavily dividing the two halves. After the instrumental, it hammers into the synth-powered "Lost," another track where Palmer once again revels in her true ability to run the show.

In an album loaded with high points and distinctive sounds, it's hard to pick out one that stands higher than any other, although "Melody Dean," where Palmer takes a crack at "My Sharona" would have to be one. But truly the album's cohesion during varied sounds, coming together and coming apart at various times, show that Theatre is Evil is a complete work rather than a collection of songs. Thought has gone into its construction as a whole, and not just getting a bunch of songs slapped down and calling it a record.

By the end of the album's closer, "Olly Olly Oxen Free," Palmer is clearly complete and comfortable with her latest incarnation. She is like this generation's David Bowie by way of Siouxsie Sioux, a punk rock powerhouse of a frontwoman who is comfortable with any sound, and not tied into the sounds she started with, highly content to embrace the evolution of her sound, and to get rid of the old as she progresses past it. Her old sound is gone, but the new sound is a solid replacement. If this were the end of her musical evolution (although based on her history, I highly doubt that's the case), it would be an apt end, leaving Palmer as a much higher musical life form than the one she began as, with no compromises or losing sight of credibility along the way.

Amanda Palmer

©Nicole Lucas

And rather than viewing Theatre is Evil as the end of the punk cabaret, it's probably more fitting to view it as the next wave. As the founder of the sound, Palmer retains the right to redefine its sound. As she progresses, so does it, and the next wave of the sound appears to revolve around solid sonic composition while retaining its flair for the dramatic. It's a sound more dependent on its theatrical nature than its basic sound. The theatre is there, so the cabaret remains.

Indeed, if Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra truly believe that theatre is evil, it would make them one of the most heinous bands in existence, because the band embraces a lush theatricality and raises it high, so the album title is either tongue in cheek or a bold confession to their wicked, ways.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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