So, it’s been about a week since I made the trip to Austin to see the fabulous Amanda Fucking Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra in concert. I promised friends that I would write about the experience and it has taken me this long to wrap my brain around the events of the day. The whole thing can be summed up in four words:
Amanda Palmer is magic.
She is. She just is. She brings together elements that alone are fantastic, but together have the power to change people. She is a modern-day alchemist. She mixes pound-on-the-piano-keys chords and raw, not-quite-in-key vocals with rip-out-your-heart lyrics and comforting melodies in a giant cauldron of why-the-fuck-not to create some of the most deeply resonating songs in the history of music. She is, somehow, the perfect balance of theatrical and easy-going.
Right before I left Dallas on Wednesday, Amanda announced an in-store signing starting at 4 o’clock at Waterloo Records. I did the math in my head and decided that I probably wouldn’t make it there in time, but it wasn’t that big a deal because 1) I have met her before and 2) I was going to see her in concert that night. I didn’t hurry or push my ancient little SUV and made it to Austin in a little under four hours. Just about the time the signing started.
Again, I wasn’t too concerned. I hadn’t planned on being there so I decided to wander Sixth Street instead. If you’ve never heard of Sixth Street, think of a longer but slightly less boisterous Bourbon Street. Sixth is to music what Bourbon is to, well, bourbon. I strolled, taking in the scenery and architecture and the overall vibe that is Austin, Texas. I popped in a small “pub”* and had a beer while watching the handful of locals watch Jeopardy! on the big screen. I had about three hours to kill before the concert, and I didn’t want to spend it alone in a bar. I checked the time and thought about the Waterloo signing. A glance at Google Maps showed a mere eleven city blocks between me and Amanda Palmer.
Well, what the hell else did I have to do? I took off for the record store.
I made it by 5:15pm. I thought for sure she would be done and gone, back to the venue to rehearse with her band and get ready for the show. I was wrong, of course, because Amanda actually enjoys connecting with her fans and stays until the last possible minute. I got in line, sweaty from my walk in the Texas heat and nervous to actually be standing in her vicinity. I was self-conscious of my position as “last person in line” and quietly cringed when I realized I didn’t have anything for her to sign. The line ahead of me moved, and I took a breath to make a hasty retreat when two woman stepped up behind me. They were laughing and chatting, one radiating her nervous energy and the other holding it in.**
As a rule, I never talk to people in line. Ever. I’m too nervous and awkward and shy and afraid of embarrassing myself and anxious… I usually do my best impression of Harry Potter under his invisibility cloak. This line, however, was an Amanda Palmer line. This line was people who love Amanda and her work as much as I do. This line was my people.
On her Twitter feed last week:
talk to strangers. scream loudly. tip the bartenders.RT @_serenefire Any advice for a complete concert newbie coming to the show tonight?
— Amanda Palmer (@amandapalmer) September 18, 2012
I always tip well, and I’ve been known to lose my voice screaming along with the album in my car, so I had those covered. Talk to strangers, though? Well, I guess I could try…
One of the women made a nervous joke and the other laughed, “That’s so going on Facebook.” A funny thought hit me, and for some reason I decided to share it with these strangers.
“Don’t worry. The first time I met her I cried. No big deal. It’s the peeing yourself that can be embarrassing.”
Then these two women, these complete strangers, did something I never expected. They let me in on their conversation. They laughed with me. The people in line ahead of me joined in, too. We talked and nervously giggled until we got to the signing table. When it was my turn I was nervous and awkward and got nerd-squee all over Amanda and generally made an ass of myself. Which is what I expected of myself. The women behind me did pretty much the same thing, which surprised me.
I had just met these women and didn’t even know their names, but when I got through the line, I stopped and waited for them. I chatted with the manager of the store about the sad state of independent record stores and how much I was impressed with Waterloo. This brought the list of strangers I talked to in one hour up to six. If I was going to step out of my box, it was going to be a giant leap.
When they got through, they bounced over to me. We continued our conversation, now with more “oh my god that was Amanda Fucking Palmer did that just happen”, and decided that we needed a drink. We walked back up Sixth and stopped at a bar/restaurant for cheap, greasy food and fruity pink cocktails. We got so lost in conversation we didn’t realize what time it was. We made a mad dash for the venue, and almost missed the start of the show. (We did miss most of the opening acts, which is unfortunate.)
There’s something you have to understand about Amanda Palmer shows. Amanda doesn’t hide backstage, doing whatever artists do before they are announced. Amanda plays MC, introducing the opening acts, and runs around between sets making sure everything is ready. She talks to the people in the front rows, waves to and takes pictures of the audience that end up on Twitter and tumblr and her blog. So when it’s time for her to take the stage, it’s a bit anti-climactic, but at the same time, more genuine.
By the time she hits the first chord of the first song, you feel like it’s less of a concert and more of a giant party. The people standing near you are just people you haven’t met yet. You’re not sure who the host is, but you know you owe them a huge ‘thank you’. I’m not gonna lie to you, Marge, the next several hours are a blur of music and happiness and tears and dancing and breasts and saxophones. I stood stage left in front of a wall of speakers and felt the music coursing through me. I cried and sang along and didn’t care when my voice cracked. I danced and hugged the people next to me and took dozens of blurry pictures***. And for a while, I forgot all the bad shit, all the horrible life stuff that’s been accumulating lately, and was just me, just Merry, surrounded by love.
* Seriously people. There is a difference between a pub and a bar. The sooner you learn this the better off we all will be. If you don’t have Guinness on tap (at the very least) you aren’t a pub.
** I’m not telling you their names because I don’t have permission to do so.
*** Coming in a post later this week.