‘You have been so missed” beams Tori Amos, sat astride her piano stool three songs into her first gig since the pandemic. The feeling is clearly mutual; the adoring front rows honour her return with three consecutive standing ovations, and you can feel the sense of relief ricocheting off the London Palladium’s ornate walls. Without the “voltage” of performing live, and grieving the death of her mother, the American singer-songwriter has said that she had depression in lockdown, eventually finding her way back via the rugged countryside of her adopted home of Cornwall. Realising she had to write her way out of the emotional fog, just as she had done on 1992’s uncompromising breakthrough Little Earthquakes, the ornate Ocean to Ocean started to take shape.
While this short UK tour is ostensibly in support of that album, her sixteenth, Amos is famous for her eclectic setlists peppered with fan favourites, B-sides and covers. Tonight is no different. After her ecstatic arrival in which she bows and mimes a wide group hug, she settles down between her giant Bösendorfer piano on one side and a bank of keyboards on the other. Head turned to face outwards, eyes peering inquisitively over the top of black-framed glasses, she joins her drummer and guitarist for the swirling Juárez, a song about the murder of hundreds of women taken from 1999’s electronic curio, To Venus and Back.
It’s a meandering opener, and one that feels like flexing a musical muscle that’s been laid dormant for a while. The same can be said for Bouncing Off Clouds, which skips around a propulsive bassline, augmented by Amos’s constant swivels between piano and keyboard. Depending on a song’s mood, her instruments – including a fourth keyboard hidden on top of the piano – are either caressed closely or hammered into submission. The one stumbling block is her silk trouser suit, the tendrils of which occasionally get caught under her gold stilettos as she stamps at various pedals.
There are concessions to the more casual fan – the galloping UK hit Cornflake Girl and an impassioned Crucify still sound as fresh as ever – but it’s a show aimed at pleasing the hardcore. So we get three songs from 1996’s cult classic Boys for Pele, with spare piano opener Horses fleshed out into a gently rolling rock workout, while the Nine Inch Nails-referencing Caught a Lite Sneeze is elongated to a near eight-minute swirl, Amos playfully delivering the word “sneeze” as “snayz”. In this context, the songs cherrypicked from Ocean to Ocean work perfectly, with Addition of Light Divided and the title track sticking to a template that favours undulating rock over candlelit piano confessionals.
When the latter does arrive as a “prayer” for a world “gone mad”, it’s via a delicate cover of Tom Waits’ Time, an ode to prioritising love and gripping on to life while you still can. It is followed by Amos’s own Russia, from 2017’s Native Invader, an album that aims to make sense of humanity’s myriad horrors. On set closer Take to the Sky, an early B-side from the Little Earthquakes era that rails against dangerous male ego, Amos absorbs the pain and forges her own path. “Have a seat while I take to the sky,” she sings; that voice, like her message, still as clear as a bell.