Promoting her latest album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, Tori Amos played to a nearly sold-out crowd at the Paramount Theatre Monday night, with British rock band One eskimO opening the show. Her two-hour set focused on material off her the new album, but included songs that spanned Amos' fifteen-year-plus career, finishing with "Tear in your Hand" off 1992's iconic Little Earthquakes. This was the third show on the "Sinful Attraction" tour, which began last week in Seattle.
Released in mid-May, Abnormally Attracted to Sin is Amos' tenth studio album and her debut on Universal Records, after ending a five-year contract with Epic. The title comes from a line from Guys and Dolls. But the line, Amos says, is just a "jumping-off point": While the name could be mistaken for a self-deprecating celebration of hedonism, it's actually a reaction to harsh societal prejudice, particularly among religious societies. A main theme of her new record is the "threat of despair" — a concept that Amos feels controls us — and a reclamation of self in a judgmental society.
"The greatest sin is intolerance," said Amos in an interview prior to the show, "and this is coming from a minister's daughter." Raised in a conservative Methodist household, Amos says that she witnessed a lot of hypocrisy and judgment among believers, and not enough compassion — though she acknowledges the positive potential of religion. "It's a choice, isn't it? Sometimes it's hard to find," she said. "Growing up in the Methodist church, yes, I found there to be some compassionate people. But I found a lot more judgmental, hypocritical people who would try to destroy other people if they couldn't agree with their lifestyle."
She touches on the themes of choice and judgment in a variety of scenarios throughout the album, with songs that explore prostitution, self-doubt, suicide, war, and the destructive power of the church. Amos' desire to challenge — to put it mildly — the institution of religion comes out strongest in "Strong Black Vine," which features subverted biblical imagery, sadomasochistic undertones, and the chorus: Save you from that evil faith. The song closed the main set, in front of a bright red-lit, fiery-looking background.
Dressed in shiny purple spandex under a flowing, fringy gown, Amos began her set with Abnormally Attracted to Sin's dark, driving "Give," the story of a prostitute who explains how giving love is what sustains her. It was hard to tell how much of the crowd was familiar with Amos' newest work. Older songs got a much bigger reaction than anything off the new album, though the real crowd-pleaser was a dark, slow rendition of Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time." Listeners starving for some classic Tori got to hear 1999's "Precious Things," (off To Venus and Back) just before "Strong Black Vine." Her first encore started with the new "Police Me," followed by another Venus song, "Bliss," with the final encore featuring "Big Wheel," off American Doll Posse, and then "Tear in Your Hand." Despite the classic songs getting so much more attention, this didn't look like a classic Tori Amos crowd: all ages, a nearly equal mix of genders, and not as much quirk as she attracted in the past. Whether she is drawing a new crowd of listeners these days or the Nineties goth kids have grown up and mellowed out isn't quite clear, but the crowd looked a bit conservative compared to past Tori shows — not a single pair of fairy wings in sight.
Despite not having yet released an album in the United States (its debut, All Balloons, is due for a September release), One eskimO seemed to have a decent following. This is their first North American tour. With their dreamlike, ethereal sound, lead singer and lyricist Kristian Leontiou says the band sometimes gets compared to Radiohead or Massive Attack. Before forming the band, the now-27-year-old Leontiou was on his way to becoming to the "next big thing" of Britain's manufactured pop scene after his 2004 top ten hit, "Story of My Life." Soon after, he began playing with drummer Adam Falkner, and later added guitarist Peter Rinaldi and bass and horn player Jamie Sefton.
However, if you read the blog on the band's web site, you won't get this information, but rather an illustrated story of a little "eskimO" who "loved nothing more than to sing" and formed a band with a giraffe, monkey, and penguin, all corresponding to current band members. The characters and animation style make another appearance in the music video for the single "Hometime," resulting in a cute, somewhat eerie, psychedelic Fantasia-esque creation.
"I wrote the bio because I really find blogging difficult," explained Lentiou. "It's one of those things. Everyone was saying you need a blog, and I thought why not just be a little more creative with it. Then the illustrations developed and ended up just staying on the blog. ... It was just a case of trying to do something visually that was outside of 'four guys in a band.' We wanted to do something a bit more magical."