When musicians shift from nightclub tours to arenas, it's usually to accommodate an increasing fan base. And although Tori Amos has certainly attracted growing numbers of fans over the past few years, her decision to take the plunge into large venues in support of her current album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," has as much to do with the expanding horizons of her music as her enthusiastic following.
This album is her first with a bona-fide band since the late '80s, when she fronted the disastrous Y Kant Tori Read. It strikes an intriguing balance between the spare piano-and-voice approach of 1992's "Under the Pink" and the extremes of 1996's "Boys for Pele."
On Friday, Amos' intense, confessional songs, so perfect for the intimate atmosphere of a supper club, played out just as effectively in the cavernous ambience of the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim. The singer-pianist's music and the offbeat charisma at the heart of it were powerful enough to fill the space.
Arena rock is rife with time-honored customs, and Amos' show was no different, though her fans added some twists. Instead of spontaneous outbursts of air guitar, hands in the audience sprang to life miming Amos' piano riffs, and, barely able to contain its fervor, the young female contingent of the audience filled the pauses between songs with the kind of ecstatic cheering one would expect at a Hanson concert.
Musically, the group dynamic yielded some striking results. Livelier, more raucous numbers brought out the synergy between bassist Jon Evans, drummer Matt Chamberlain, guitarist Steve Caton and Amos.
"God," "Space Dog" and particularly "iiiee," with its sinewy, seductive rhythms, were especially engaging. During other songs, such as "Northern Lad," the musicians faded into the role of a backing band, providing a solid and unobtrusive backdrop for Amos.
About halfway through the set, they left the stage and Amos played a couple of songs solo ("Winter" and the non-album track "Merman"). The big, boomy sound of the Pond emphasized how far removed the singer was from most of the audience, but it also intensified the drama of the songs.
The sheer volume of the music and Amos' distinctive vocals (somewhere between Kate Bush and Sinead O'Connor) reverberating off the arena walls gave the songs a new edge that cut through the distance. The solo interlude also made clear the driving force behind Amos' music.
With a band or without, Amos is about composition and songwriting. She may rock on occasion, but the music she makes isn't really rock 'n' roll. As keen as the musicianship might have been Friday, the musicians never really let loose.
Amos herself was the only one who put on any significant solo displays, and in spite of her fiery piano work and her impassioned vocals, the music, true to its nature, hinged on her narratives, her stories, her insights and the musical structures she gives them. So it might have been a novel experience for her fans to see her perform with a rock band on the big stage, but the essence of Amos' songs remained the same.