An Interview with Amanda Palmer: No Limits, No Fear, No Intermission

The artist and activist's new show is hours long, consists of excessive grief, and may well be the best thing she has ever done.

"For the first time in my career I unapologetically go for the jugular," says Amanda Palmer of her new show, There Will Be No Intermission.

What else can you say about a piece four hours long — consisting of one woman and two musical instruments — that covers multiple deaths, abortions, a miscarriage, public shaming, and the trials of motherhood? "It's like a stand-up comedy confessional booth," she continues, "It's exhausting… it's also the most rewarding show I've ever played." Performed Saturday to an ecstatic, if eventually emotionally drained, NYC crowd at the Beacon Theatre, this is arguably Palmer's most compelling live set to date.

She begins the night behind her piano, playing a song that swims in melancholy. Of course, this could be said, without being disingenuous, of almost every song on the album. Perhaps this is why Palmer told Popdust: "For fuck's sake, I hope I don't write a record like this again." Whether it's the drawn-out devastation of The Ride, the eulogy that is Machete, or the harrowing sympathy of Voicemail for Jill, you're hard-pressed to find a single track that you could play at a party — at least without thoroughly killing the vibe.

Amanda Palmer at the Beacon Theatre Carl Scheffel/MSG Photos

As the evening continues, she takes longer and longer breaks between songs, telling extended stories that inform them. And thank goodness she does, because not only is she a captivating and compassionate storyteller, but she is able to find levity and wry perspective in situations that cry out for relief. She even calls out her own presentation part-way through, instructing the crowd to yell "Amanda, I'm too sad!" if they become overwhelmed by emotion, at which point she plays the opening chords of Coin Operated Boy by the Dresden Dolls. This happened five or six times.

"These songs were therapeutic and medicinal more than anything else," says Palmer in conversation, "I didn't choose this record, it just came out." Each successive musical offering in the show makes this feel all the more true.

The song Judy Blume, and its embrace of the novelist that embraced Palmer at a tender age, sets the evening's standard of intimacy. Machete cuts deep into her grief at the passing of her mentor Anthony. "You'd Think I'd Shot Their Children" finds Amanda trying to explain radical compassion in the face of media backlash. "A Mother's Confession" sees her recounting the shame and pain that dog the day-to-day beats of parenting. She piles it on thick, to put it bluntly, but as an audience member you never feel put upon, you feel welcomed.

On Confession: "It's a folk song. It's three chords and ten minutes, it's not about being flashy, it's just about having a solid delivery system… I can't think of a more accessible song I've written."

Even in her most controversial piece of the night, there is never a feeling of confrontation. Voicemail for Jill, her song about abortion, leaves everything on the stage but never feels gratuitous. Probably because it shows Amanda Palmer doing what she does best: being a catalyst for empathy. The song shuns questions and agendas, forswears party rhetoric and simply puts you in the shoes of a woman on the most difficult day of her life. You feel her grief and heartbreak and fear, and Amanda says the only thing that could possibly make you feel human again in that situation. "You are not alone."

When asked what Amanda would write a Judy Blume book about, she candidly responded "Probably abortion."

It's not a revolutionary take to say that Palmer is even better live than on the album, but here she is so good that the live show improves the album. Like the cast recording of a Broadway musical, it's great to listen to without additional context, but when you have borne witness to the full breadth of the project it becomes so much more. It becomes a visceral journal of the night, an emotional road map to the memory of an incomparable evening.

Amanda Palmer at the Beacon Theatre Carl Scheffel/MSG Photos

Going to see There Will Be No intermission is a heavy experience. No question. It's impossible for it not to be. But whether she is speaking about death, more death, or further subtle variations on subjects surrounding and parenthetically related to death, she is able to find and explore the beauty in the darkness. She speaks in the show about her awe in the face of nature, how birth, miscarriage, and the cessation of life filled her with wonder rather than disgust. Then to push the point home, she sings a Disney song. As one does.

It is an inimitable experience, and few people but Amanda Palmer could do it. Why? As she tells it, because of her Patreon. "I answer to no one. I can write a pop song if I want, I can write folk ballads if I want, I could put out an EDM record if I want, I could write a bunch of feminist essays if I want, I can make a documentary film about ants if I want, I can do anything I fucking want, as long as it's in my power and with my voice. I have this army of 15,000 [Patreon supporters] funding me to express things and shine light."

And on Saturday she shone that light in the Beacon.

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Thomas Burns Scully is a Popdust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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