Tori Amos - Ikeda Theatre at Mesa Arts Center - 7/25/2014

Tori Amos, wearing leather pants underneath a long flowing dress, straddled herself on the piano bench in a position that would seem uncomfortable to anyone who played the 88 keys on a regular basis. She played "Parasol" from the 2005 album The Beekeeper with her right hand on a keyboard and her left on a grand piano, gyrating like a metronome.

Everyone in the intimate Ikeda Theater at Mesa Arts Center knew that they weren't seeing a typical singer-songwriter like Carole King. The red-haired, porcelain-skinned beauty, wearing horn-rimmed glasses like a alluring church organist, was going to sing of sex, fantasy, and religion in way that is personal and confrontational.

See also: Tori Amos Emerges from Career Doldrums with Plenty to Say in Her Songs

As she finished the deep cut "Sister Janet," Amos introduced herself to the audience and showed them a manilla file folder containing the playlist for the evening, inspired by the many requests she received from fans and walking around in the desert sun. Surprises were coming and many would be pleased and some would not be as pleased. Her explanation was followed by the song "Icicle," which is about masturbation, from her 20-year-old album Under The Pink. It got the crowd excited as she slammed down on the keys singing "I could have, I should have" -- it's not subtle.

She continued to work her way through her selection of rarities, winking and smiling knowingly at the audience as if to ask, "Are you not entertained?" She would dramatically move her hands like a ballerina or suddenly turn to the audience like Derek Zoolander practicing his Magnum pose as she sang about painting lovers back to life on "Weatherman" from her new album Unrepentant Geraldines. (She would only play two tracks from the album she was supporting on this tour.)

The stage lights turned green, and Amos announced we were about to enter the "Lizard Lounge," which meant it was time for covers. She lifted her leg and launched into an intense rendition of The Police hit "Wrapped Around Your Finger," which heightened the longing of the song's narrator but removed all traces of humor in the song. She performed a cover of Joe Jackson's "Real Men," which refers to gay culture in the early '80s, as if she was trying to get a message across to the Mesa audience.

Occasionally, Amos would hold a note throatily like it was some sort of inside joke that only certain members of the audience would get and look afterwards to gauge their reaction. The concert was the equivalent of watching the finale of Lost had you only watched the first two seasons. You're going to enjoy it, but you're going to have lots of questions and probably not enjoy the show on the same level of everyone around you who remained dedicated throughout. According to Twitter, this show marked the first occasion that Amos performed the song "Zero Point" from 1999's To Venus And Back and unless you comb over every song Amos has ever done, the significance of this event was entirely lost on you.

Just as the limitations of performing alone onstage were becoming increasingly apparent, Amos hit a button on her keyboard and the backing track of "Cornflake Girl" snapped the audience out of their seats and toward the front of the stage. As eager as Amos was to out-Sting Sting earlier, playing one of her biggest hits as it sounded 20 years ago felt like a missed opportunity. She could have done something different with the song given the limitations she put on herself for this tour. Then again, the casual fans had been challenged enough. She saved her creativity for a quiet version of the Prince hit "Purple Rain."

Friday, July 25: Tori Amos at Ikeda Theatre at Mesa Arts Center Personal Bias: I've frequently stated that 20 years ago Under The Pink is one of those albums that changed my life and how I listen to music. Unrepentant Geraldines is the closest she's come to hitting that peak again.

First World Problems: This is the second time I've seen Amos (I caught her when so co-headlined a tour with Alanis Morrisette 12 years ago). This is the first show where I've had to use Twitter as a guide. I don't think you should have to work so hard to understand a performance.

The crowd: The aroma of clove cigarettes was in the air. It was a flashback to a '90s college coffeehouse.

Overheard in the Crowd: "Myra Ellen, get out here!" -- the loud fan outside of the venue hoping to talk to Amos. The gentleman holding roses and looking like a Chippendales dancer was quick to remind her she doesn't answer to her proper name.

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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil