While stocking my arsenal of available online information in preparation for Thursday’s concert at the Arlington Theatre, I couldn’t help but think, as my subject does, in grand and relatively obscure allusion. In the case of Tori Amos and her American Doll Posse tour, art, in many new and revisited forms, reveals itself while the artist quite visibly peacocks on stage. The tour finds Amos hiding in plain sight, representing two of five different compartmentalized aspects of her personality. The characters vary between concert venues, which meant our show would be one uniquely tailored for us. And Amos uses each caricature to assert the main message of her album: The political is personal. But conventional politics were all but absent on Thursday night, replaced instead by a bevy of safe tunes of gender identity and personal strife, sung through Amos’s hand-selected Santa Barbaran dolls, Clyde and Tori. But the paradoxical themes I had expected-the exploration of gender politics and self identity as it parallels our current political stew-were simply forgotten. Amos’s message, though still well-crafted, remained underdeveloped and unacknowledged. And in its place were a cavalcade of endearing songs of personal triumph and a sum of untapped artistic potential.
The show began with promising English opener Yoav, who, like many attractive thirtysomething guitarists, stems from the school of delays, looping, and a percussive stylistic approach. Live, Yoav shows a haunting intensity that is missed on most of his albums, especially with “There Is Nobody” and his cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind.”
Amos’s set was a fine blending of old and new ideals-from her dueling electric and Bsendorfer piano setup to the revisiting and remaking of older hits and the obvious conceptual themes of the concert. Doll Clyde opened, taking the stage silhouetted and masked with an identity-cloaking scarf. She began the set with “Bouncing Off Clouds,” a song Amos attributes to Clyde on her album. Amos’s vocals and Chrissie Hynde-esque stage presence were as indomitable as ever, which paired nicely with the band’s jazzier, electronic ventures on older songs like “Juarez,” Lloyd Cole’s “Rattlesnakes,” and a techno remake of “Professional Widow.” The less enlivened second half of Amos’s set saw a departure from the Posse theme-she was, after all, bedazzled in sequin-y leopard print and obligated to perform hits “Big Wheel” and “Cornflake Girl.” Despite the disconnectedness of her Tori doll set, the repertoire turned to more vulnerable, introspective songs touching on Amos’s torrid past of disappointments-the bulk of which was performed band-less under Amos’s T & Bo (Tori and Bsendorfer) section.
Should form and feeling designate artistic success, American Doll Posse is pure artistic genius. But if Amos’s goal was to do so while sending a political message or remaining an invisible artist, Thursday’s show was a complete failure. As Clyde said, “All work of art starts as potential”; it seems with some fine tuning and more reinvention, Amos’s American Doll Posse could be quite the gang.