Two Evenings with Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman: The Brava Theater and the Palace of Fine Arts, 11/2/2011 and 11/4/2011

by Jonathan Pirro on November 6, 2011

A moment of quiet passion

A moment of quiet passion

If there is one subject that art constantly draws its attention to, it is love. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, utterly perplexing and impossible to define or simplify, and poets, painters, writers and musicians the world over have attempted its expression for a long as human history can recall. It is a funny concept, because it often takes the joyful, numbing jitters one feels in moments of tender intimacy, and pairs them up with the glorious, whooping sensation of a fiery passion to run to rooftops and scream your newfound devotion to the world below. Artists who know and have felt these moments of indescribable sense have done their best to bring forth their craft and communicate both sides of that spectrum, and everything in between, in their chosen mediums. It stands to reason, therefore, that two artists, both experts at their craft and both devotedly, passionately in love with another, will craft some of the most fantastic, loud and rambunctious work, while also taking moments of elegant poise, and charmingly stumbling between the two along the way. Such a scene was set and displayed with jubilant wonder by the couple that graced San Francisco with their presence for two separate nights: literary and screen writer Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods, Stardust and Coraline; and his wife, mindbending songmistress Amanda Palmer, the frontwoman of The Dresden Dolls.

Tom Dickins of The Jane Austen Argument

Tom Dickins of The Jane Austen Argument

While the format of the shows was to be An Evening With, referring to a night where the headlining performers were the only act to grace the stage, Neil and Amanda prefaced each show with a surprise performance by The Jane Austen Argument, a stunning cabaret-folk-punk duo from Melbourne, Australia. Unlike a traditional opening act, the pair of Tom Dickins and Jen Kingwell played three short numbers, each filled with a wonderful passion and fiercely powerful presence that was belied by their stark onstage setup. Armed with musical tools similar to those of their cohorts — in this case, a ukelele and piano, as well as soaring vocals on behalf of both members — the two managed to wow the raptly-attentive audience in their ephemeral appearance, with roaring cheers filling the spaces for both evenings. There was little doubt that part of the enthusiasm came from their song “Holes”, a piece composed by Neil for Amanda, which The Jane Austen Argument performed on both evenings.

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer

Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer

It should be mentioned, at this point, that there had been offered no hints as to what the rest of the evening would contain, in terms of performance on behalf of either, or both, in the lead couple. Thus, the audience was pleasantly welcomed to the show by a delicate but gloriously hilarious performance of “Makin’ Whoopie”, first by Amanda on ukelele and voice, and then with accompaniment by Neil, who walked onstage a few seconds later. This song — which, while wonderfully endearing and somewhat painfully honest — is a perfect example of the tone present for the entire night: a gentle grace coupled with the unsure but still wonderful sensation of powerful human emotion, with a bit of awkward humor thrown in to keep things extra lively. To lock the evening’s mood down to just the one song, however, is magnificently unfair. Each night was an intimate, but also majestic, glimpse into the otherworldly honeymoon that Neil and Amanda have been wrapped up in for the better part of 11 months. (They were married the day after the Dresden Dolls’ monumental New Years’ performance.) Along with that glimpse was offered, to those who managed to get seats for the small and quickly-sold-out shows, a chance to take a journey with two people who are exuberantly passionate about their craft, and yet still more than happy to bring a human element into their performances, as a way to connect with their audiences in ways that very few artists do in today’s world.

Amanda and her newly-purchased ukelele

Amanda and her newly purchased ukelele

Given that the two San Francisco performances were the second and third nights of this six-show tour respectively, each was full of moments of excitement and surprise, both scripted and not. The rhythm of appearance tradeoffs, from Amanda playing piano and ukelele solo to Neil approaching his softly-lit podium to read aloud, was marked with pointed comments between the two, both to the audience and to each other, along with gentle teasing coaxes to encourage one another to appear and reappear as the evenings continued. Despite having a general structure for the show, both Neil and Amanda threw out some of the lines in favor of more choice selections that called upon audience suggestions and midway mind-changing to direct the way that the set continued. Slight slips and flubs on behalf of either of the two were hardly seen as such; if anything, they offered a chance for a deeply jovial tangent on behalf of either party. The act of responding to their mistakes, with not a single eyebrow raise or indication of disappointment, kept alive a very human element within each show, with Amanda playfully yelling at herself for forgetting lyrics to some of her more extensive pieces, and Neil deciding to change his reading selections seconds before he began with them — and both brought raucous cheers and peals of laughter from the transfixed audience, amidst the oohs, aahs, and enamored cooing that beset the crowd at all of the brief but beautiful romantic interactions between the two that drifted through the numbers like shooting stars.

Neil Gaiman reads aloud

Neil Gaiman reads aloud

The sets varied between the two nights only slightly, but enough that those who attended both performances were offered a rewarding set of treats. Where the first night had seen Amanda performing Jason Webley’s “Icarus” before her well-loved classic “Ampersand”, and Neil’s longer moment of reading was a selection from his short story collection Fragile Things, the Palace of Fine Arts performance saw a nod to fans of the Dresden Dolls with performances of “Missed Me” and an audience request in the form of “Half Jack”, while Neil read a powerful piece entitled “Forgetting Ray Bradbury”. On both nights, Neil offered up a story that described a journey he had undertaken the night before their wedding, while Amanda answered the infamous “who inspires you” question with a brilliantly heartfelt musical piece that spoke, at great length, of the work of Judy Blume. In addition to their solo performances, they shared several moments with Neil providing vocals to a few songs that they had written together, such as the wistful “I Google You” and the stomping, furious “The Problem With Saints” (from their 8in8 project with Damian Kulash (of OK Go) and Ben Folds). The most-loved moment of each night was, quite likely, the Ask Neil And Amanda segment, which saw the couple sitting down and asking each other questions — from the strange and whimsical to the hilarious and delightfully provocative — that had been provided by the audience. More than a few interesting skeletons were dusted off from their respective closets, with moments of unabashed confession coupled with swift opportunities to impart even more passionate compliments to one another, and their onlookers responded magnificently to both.

Preparing for Ask Amanda And Neil

Preparing for Ask Amanda And Neil (photo by Marie Carney)

By the end of each evening, the concept and mindset of being at a “show” had all but completely gone out the window. Sure, there were songs being sung and notes being played, but by the time each night came to its conclusion, the songs were drawn out longer and longer, with more and more surprises thrown in, such as the return of The Jane Austen Argument to the stage for the couple’s performance of Wreckless Eric’s “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World”. Amanda and Neil each offered the other a gift performance, with the former declaring that she would be covering a Velvet Underground song each night of the tour, as a present for Neil’s upcoming mid-November birthday, and the groom reading aloud a short but powerfully heartwarming poem that named many things about Amanda that he loved dearly. Each night finally came to a truly explosive close in the same manner — Amanda, brandishing one of, perhaps, a decent collection of ukeleles, mounted the edge of the stage and belted out her newly-composed “Ukelele Anthem”, pulling three hours’ worth of energy into barely four minutes of song. Thus, the evening came to an end, and many tender moments of open affection were shared one last time by Neil and Amanda below the house lights, before they bowed together and departed into the darkness offstage.

One last embrace for San Francisco

One last embrace for San Francisco (photo by Marie Carney)

I will call these performances two of the best that I have seen all year, simply for the fact that there has been absolutely nothing like them in the last 11 months that I have spent attending concerts. No other show brings together such a diverse pair of artistic backgrounds and mindsets, while also never truly offering a definite formula and keeping a sense of mystery and wonder for the evening as three hours slip away from you before you even notice that the clock’s hands have begun to move. I would trade my experiences of any masterful or savantly-precise musician, or other performer, to continue to see every gentle shimmer of excited fumbles that showed the passion and life behind each of Amanda and Neil’s creations. Through it all, the most truly inspiring and joyous aspect of each night was the bright, unyielding and passionate love that the couple displayed to and with each other, offering it up for everyone to see — not at all in a manner that seemed hurried or forced, but with that fierce happiness and firecracker enthusiasm that accompanies those moments of pure, unadulterated love — moments that, hopefully, all of us can hope to experience.

Setlist from the Brava Theater (with some pieces applying to both)

Setlist from the Brava Theater (with some pieces applying to both) (photo by Jonathan Pirro)

All photos by Paige K. Parsons except where noted.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Paige K. Parsons November 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Lovely! You should also be proud that Neil posted a link to your article from his tumbler!

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You must be joking November 7, 2011 at 2:32 am

The thing is with narcissists, and that is what Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer are, narcissists about to tour together and put on a show for their little Sea Org followers, they just want applause, good or bad doesn’t matter, art doesn’t matter, moving the collective philosophy of the human race forward doesn’t matter. They will do the least amount of work they can manage, then turn to the audience for their fix. What they will NEVER do is turn to their process and try to learn their fucking craft. Too much work.

Reply

You wouldn't know love if it hit you with a flounder November 7, 2011 at 2:36 am

Love? LOL! Palmer’s in love with the power she thinks Gaiman can get her (he can’t), and Gaiman’s in love with the stage and hijacking the 50 members of the Dresden Dolls audience (may have over-estimated there).

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman are so “in love,” they make sure there’s a verbal description or a photographer snapping a picture of every “intimate” moment.

Break-up with innocent drummer boyfriend selfishly exploited on AFP’s blog? Check!

Publicity campaign of Neil and Amanda posed together cooking in a fake kitchen, as farmer and wife, in a bathtub, on a roof, making a tossed together film, on stage together, in a poster, in doll form, etc, ad nauseum (all within 6 months) released while their ex’s try to figure out WTF’s happening? Check!!!!

Naked sharpie pics of Palmer sexted to Gaiman released on the internet? Check!

Engagement with a sharpie? Check! (Yeah! There’s a photographer there, strangely!)

Engagement breakfast? Check! (I think the photographer sleeps with them).

Hairy, naked strip show on the ONLY red carpet these morons will ever see? Check!

Pictures of bathroom at the awards show? Check! (classy)

Boring description of upper level seating at Oscars (where the tag-along writer of optioned material Gaiman was seated so he wouldn’t bother anyone) while twittering? Check!

Mock Marriage ceremony on the street? Check!

Scientology mock wedding ceremony at Chabon’s house! Check!

Sex life of your fiancee detailed in Spin article? Check!

Fiancee having private break down moment about doomed career detailed in Spin article?

Check and publish!

The only aspect of their relationship they’ve edited was the disgusting Cabaret artwork of Gaiman giving Palmer head. Maybe at their annual Scientology board meeting, er, I mean intimate talk they decided to keep that one all to themselves.

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sadini November 7, 2011 at 7:52 am

^^ Jesus, someone’s bitter. Can I ask, if they annoy you so much, why do you follow their life in such detail? I’m a fan, and I couldn’t list all these facts about them if I wanted to, which means that I care less than you do. Maybe just go get a life of your own instead of obsessing over someone else’s? This just makes you look pathetic and creepy.

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Fahrenheit February 20, 2014 at 1:07 am

You’re pathetic and creepy and a sycophant. Gaiman and Palmer suck donkey balls.

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OS November 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I was at Friday’s show at the Palace of Fine Arts. It was spectacular. I had SO much fun, and was rather sad when they had to end the show. More, I wanted more! Oh well.

As for “You must be joking” and “You wouldn’t know love if it hit you with a flounder,” dude, get a life. I did a google search on the subject, and all the information that came up on NG and AFP and scientology came from seemingly one person, who likes to create multiple accounts and post multiple derogatory comments, strewn across various comments on sites, spanning about the last year, year and a half. How pathetic.

Reply

Fahrenheit February 20, 2014 at 1:09 am

Well I’m another person and I find the Gaiman & Palmer show to be unrehearsed and amateur.

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LS November 9, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I attended the Palace of Fine Arts show, and I had a great time. They all were magnificent! I hope they do something like this again in the future.

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Werd Marker December 15, 2011 at 1:35 am

What a sad and sorry show this was. It was like watching an amateur high-school production. Gaiman and Palmer are boring, tedious, talentless and ambitious, so desperate for any attention they will take negative. WTF were they thinking? They just wandered around aimlessly as if they did not rehearse. Gaiman and Palmer are second rate, crappy performers and an embarrassment.

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Scalipiano April 5, 2012 at 12:32 am

Gaiman and Palmer are a train wreck.

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Lee Adams October 7, 2013 at 12:57 am

What a pair of insufferable, amateur bores. Gaiman and Palmer are awful.

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