It would be nigh-impossible to argue the genius of Amanda Palmer. She’s taken her artistic ability and channeled it into music, writing and other performances. It’s because of her talent and experiences that she had the chance to be a part of the TED talks in 2013, and that experience brought her to Vancouver for the 2014 TED talks, and that led to last years impromptu Amanda Palmer & Friends From TED show at the Vogue theater. This is a real quick and dirty coverage of a career that’s spanned a couple decades and a vast collection of conferences concerning Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) but the information is out there and the talks done by Amanda & friends are available for whoever wants to see them. I’ll try to stick to the night’s events rather than drifting from my main focus.
By the time a group of friends and I had made it into the theater, a performance was already going on as Vancouver’s Balkan brass band, Orkestar Šlivovica, was up on stage. The band was more than happy to be on stage that night and showed it, having plenty of interaction with the audience. The band had a couple belly-dancers up on stage with them though I never caught their relation to the acts present that night, it made for a good addition to the sound of the band.
Once the crowd was warmed up and the appointed hour had arrived (and then slightly gone by), Palmer took the stage draped in gold and welcomed us to a more organized night of wonder to follow the NinjaTED show of 2014. Though the message had gone out earlier that day because it was pointless to try and hide the obvious, being a part of Palmer’s unofficial official pregnancy announcement definitely made the event that much more special.
And to see someone up on stage at 13 weeks pregnant perform the way that Amanda does, as she started on ukulele with ‘In My Mind’, is impressive to say the least. Even taking into account that this was the song with the least powerful singing (though it remained clear and strong) and smallest appearance of convulsive leg movements that evening.
The first friend that evening was long-time collaborator Jason Webley whose work of note with Palmer was previously being conjoined with her as Evelyn Evelyn. Webley came out with a guitar and was going to try and follow the theme of being more organised this year but popular opinion disagreed as a wave of need for ‘Letter To John Shriner’ arose from the crowd. Webley tried to stand against the crash of requests but was pushed into it by some gentle coaxing from Palmer. It’s an absolutely silly song with an equally bizarre story behind it, as Webley explained, being one of the most twitchy human beings I’ve ever seen on stage; arms were flailing with each thought.
As Webley stepped back for the time being, his replacement was Sri Lankan opera singer (and TED talk alumni) Tharanga Goonetilleke. Goonetilleke gave us a brief overview of where she came from and how she got where she was before singing and her story was nearly as amazing as her voice. Though I may’ve been able to figure it out through my notes, I’m glad Goonetilleke mentioned that this song was from the opera Susannah, which made it simple to find the name of the song: ‘The Trees On The Mountain’. I’ve no interest in opera myself and under normal circumstances would put an opera performance fairly low on my list of priorities but I could still sit there enraptured by her voice, which overcame my usual indifference for the art form. I feel I should also give props to the accompanying pianist, Kerry O’Donovan (another Vancouver local), who Palmer apparently recruited through twitter on a fairly last minute basis.
Friend the third was Dan Pallotta, who wasn’t a musician by trade (being there to speak about not-for-profit charities) but Amanda had met him while on the plane, both heading to do a TED talk in 2013, and had asked him to come and sing to use the way he would his children. Though I’m not sure he would’ve chosen protest songs for his children, he still had a good voice and the skill to be up on that stage (though he may’ve been a bit overshadowed by the act he had to follow). Following that was an incredible, young guitarist Usman Riaz who had a background in piano that lead to him teaching himself to play several other instruments through sources like YouTube. Some sources call it percussive guitar, others say finger-style and I just simplified as tap guitar (though my initial wording isn’t quite accurate) but whatever the actual technical term is, he was right amazing. He also showed off his skill as a piano player with a haunting piece and his skill as a harmonica player with a brief burst of solo. Riaz seemed to be a very shy, modest, and humble young fellow who had more than just a touch of perfectionist in his blood. He’s still at the Berklee College of Music right now but will most assuredly go on to great things in the future.
Palmer and Webley came together on stage to perform the comedic ‘You Only Want Me ‘Cause You Want My Sister’ and although they weren’t connected by a single dress, you could tell that their personal connection was still there, alive and strong. It took me a good hour to finally figure out how to spell and therefore track down Teitur (and by that I mean I finally found him and then learned the spelling) but he seems to be missing from any reference to the show that night. A musician from the Faroe Islands, he stood out among the group for his unique brand of awkward weirdness as he a capella, talk-sang his current situation on stage to the audience while posturing himself in a strange fashion (something he commented on through song himself). However, odd as it was, he had a good flow to his ad-libbing and a beautiful voice to go with it. He followed up with a song on the piano and his voice once again shone brightly. I really don’t think I can do the situation justice through words along but maybe once his 2015 TED talk is up, this may make more sense.
Spoken word artist Sarah Kay presented two strong pieces that really showed her skill in her element. She flowed from her introduction into a piece about her home away from home that got past me at first, becoming a surprise when I realized she had started her actual performance. This was followed up by a piece for badass women that was appropriate for Amanda. Like opera, spoken word is not high on my list of things to be a part of but being there to see someone who was really good at what they did was an absolute pleasure. Palmer came out to belt out a cover of Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ in a way that only she could, before Webley joined her for her duet with Amy Cuddy on the Dresden Dolls song ‘Delilah’. Cuddy was another TED talker who didn’t come from a musical background but had clearly forged a strong friendship with Palmer, whose music she loved before meeting her through TED. Obviously quite nervous, which she had mentioned herself, Cuddy’s voice wavered and cracked at points but at certain points you could hear what her voice would sound like if she wasn’t in front of a big crowd.
But wait, there’s still more. David Kwong, a magician and veteran crossword puzzle creator (there’s a title I never thought I’d say) mixed his skills together for a trick that took a bit too long for some people in the crowd, according to one guy who yelled out something demeaning to Kwong as he was furiously creating a crossword on stage by using a word given by the audience, while keeping in mind that he had to work in the finale of his card trick into the black and white boxes. Though he had to fudge some of the words, what Kwong did and the speed with which he filled in the blanks so that everything worked was impressive to say the least. Goonetilleke came back out for an encore performance of Porgy and Bess’ ‘Summertime’, which was once again a crowd-pleasing performance.
Then it was time for the big two.
“I had sex with him,” Palmer exclaimed proudly and bluntly as Neil Gaiman took the stage in all his bushy-haired, dishevelled-looking glory. While I certainly have an appreciation for Amanda Palmer, I’m a massive comic nerd, so Gaiman will always take first place in my heart. Gaiman is a wonderful storyteller and hearing his words right from his mouth is simply perfect. His first piece was ‘October Tale’ from his A Calendar Of Tales project. It was a lovely tale with a lesson learned at the end but it couldn’t quite match up to his second piece.
Gaiman read his ‘Poem For An Unborn Child’, something he had never shared and said he would most likely not share again. It was a bit of a tear-jerker to hear it on the night of the announcement that a child was expected and it probably wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact otherwise. If Gaiman lives up to the words in that poem (which I’d like to think he most certainly would), then their child has quite the wonderful life to look forward to.
So, if not Gaiman, who was the biggest surprise guest of the evening?
Well, of course it was retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, who apparently appeared last year but there’s no time to think about that when you’ve got an astronaut on stage playing guitar and singing to you. He played two songs, finishing on his version of ‘Space Oddity’. It was bizarre in the best possible way and is something I’ll carry with me as an unreal memory for life. Amanda then got him to take a seat anywhere he wanted on stage because he’s “a fucking astronaut”, and she played her song ‘Astronaut’ for him. It was all pretty surreal.
I’ve gone on forever, so to wrap things up, the night was nothing short of incredible. The line-up of performers was so unique and everyone gave it their all, and for most, their all was mind-blowing. When I was planning to go to this, I had originally only seen Palmer’s name attached, so I assumed Gaiman would make an appearance but I wasn’t expecting another group of TED participants. Though I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing particular bands more than this show, there’s nothing that beats the collection of unique, excellent performances that made up this night. With all the proceeds (other than some piano and miscellaneous costs) going to the Vancouver Food Bank, I really don’t think I could recommend this more. If it keeps happening, then I’d recommend it until the day it ends.