Tori Amos is on the cusp of releasing her 15th album, Native Invader, and she’s chosen the intimate setting of The Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton, as her launch pad for the record. The venue, a former library and Grade ll listed building, is a hidden gem, tucked away in the Old Street area of London, and the perfect curious location for this beguiling artist.
Native Invader is Tori’s first album for Decca Records. The clues trickling through in anticipation of the release indicate that the material has been inspired by a 2016 trip through her ancestral territory of North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, as well as the emotional toll of the serious deterioration of her mother’s health and the seismic fallout from the US election.
Tonight’s show is to be the first live public performance of new material. She opens with Reindeer King, a track just recently made public, with its swirly majesty and wintery themes. Wearing glasses and high-heeled sandals and draped in loose, casual layers over jeans, she veers between a relaxed and playful delivery and an intense, fervent manifestation of the lyrics and characters.
Tori moves between a piano and a keyboard, sometimes playing both in the same song or even at the same time. Although we anticipate a straight run through of the new album, she defies protocol and launches into what she describes as “a B-side from a long time ago”, called Ruby Through The Looking Glass. She introduces the song as one written about a difficult time when she was pregnant with her daughter Tash, and how they how they “held it together”.
The second and, it turns out, only other new song revealed tonight, is Breakaway. A tale of betrayal and regret. “You’ve been betrayed. I’ve been played,” she chants. At times she becomes an actress as well as a singer, musician and songwriter, embodying the cries of her characters with a flash of eyes or twisting movements of her body.
From here she guides us back to the familiar tracks Lust, from 1999’s To Venus And Back, and a hypnotic and dramatic rendition of Mother Revolution, from 2005’s The Beekeeper. The echoing piano and incendiary keyboards of this final song lift the vibe to a powerful new summit before she closes the show, encouraging the tightly packed audience to hit the bar.
After the show, she emerges and chats with the crowd. I ask her about the drama of her performance, which was so compelling even for such a short set in a small venue. She smiles at me and says “You just let the song take over!”. I suspect that the new album, when it’s finally more fully revealed in her upcoming tour, will no doubt see both artist and audience taken over by her songs that seemingly have characters and energies all of their own.
Native Invader is out on 8 September.
Tori Amos’s European tour starts on 6 Sept in Ireland and includes shows at The Royal Albert Hall on 4 October, Manchester’s Palace Theatre on 5 October and Glasgow’s O2 Academy on 6 October.
Review by Imelda Michalczyk at Tori Amos Album Launch at Courtyard Theatre on 29th August 2017
Photography by Awais Butt