Tori Amos didn't arrive until about 45 minutes into her Friday-night set at DAR Constitution Hall. Instead, we got Isabel, a striking woman wearing a long, platinum blond wig, who slinked up to the piano smoking a cigarette. Isabel is one of Amos's five personae from her new, high-concept album "American Doll Posse," and she helped transform the evening into a can't-look-away spectacle.
She started out with "Yo George," a short condemnation of President Bush in which she asked, "Is this just the madness of King George?" The recorded version is a mellow, piano-only rumination, but the three-piece band made it furious. After blasting through five songs, Isabel went backstage and transformed back into Tori Amos, who wore a carrot-colored wig and a sequined jumpsuit printed with the American flag. Her first song, "Big Wheel," the highlight of "American Doll Posse," was a fun, stomp-and-clap single that verged on country. The 1994 song "Cornflake Girl" was classic Amos, with its distinctive high chorus and vague lyrics: "Never was a cornflake girl/Thought that was a good solution/Hangin' with the raisin girls."
Amos, 44, didn't need theatrics to please her rabid fans, but it felt refreshing to watch a major-label artist fully commit to a concept as bizarre and schizophrenic as the doll posse thing -- even if it did little to enhance the music. Still, Amos's closing song, "Hey Jupiter," served as a nice reminder of the intense, talented woman at the core of it all.
-- Rachel Beckman
You can have your sweet vocal harmonies or you can have your hard-charging rock-and-roll, but rarely can you have both at once. Unless we're talking about the New Pornographers, that Canadian orch-pop "supergroup" (the Pornographers have been dubbed such even though none of their component acts, except possibly singer Neko Case, is as celebrated as the collective). They landed at the 9:30 club Saturday night for a dizzying 100-minute celebration of Canuck solidarity with all pop-loving peoples of the globe.
Performing literally and goofily beneath its name in lights, the sprawling ensemble launched first into "All of the Things That Go to Make Heaven and Earth." It's a driving anthem -- as much an earful as a mouthful -- from the newish "Challengers" album, which along with 2005's "Twin Cinema" jet-fueled most of the set.
After the spastic boogie of "Use It," Dan Bejar, the group's secondary singer-songwriter but primary weirdo, slunk onstage to lend his nasal Fear-Me-I-Am-the-Dungeonmaster vocal to "Myriad Harbour," one the strongest new songs. Bejar would come and go, preferring to remain offstage when he wasn't singing. (Ever cradling a bottle of Stella Artois, he looked as if he might prefer to be offstage when he was singing, too.)
Unsurprisingly, Case was a commanding presence, singing gorgeous leads on "Challengers" and "Go Places" and entwining her wiry vocals with those of bandleader A.C. Newman all night. But in stark contrast to the vibe when Rilo Kiley played the 9:30 last month, fronted by a gold-lam¿-clad Jenny Lewis, Case had nary an ounce of diva-tude about her. Performing in corduroys and a jacket, she was almost too modest, apparently content to be just another member of the band. Although when it's a band this good . . . .
-- Chris Klimek