Plenty of songwriters draw upon low points in personal relationships to churn up their creative juices. Tori Amos, however, tends to take it a step further. She not only churns up memories of past partners and their actions, she disembowels them, tossing their remains against the wall before standing back to admire the oozing mural of suffering she's created.
Fidgety, eclectic and downright mystifying, Amos is one of those rare artists who invites and thrives on polarized viewpoints of her talent. And like any complex public figure, her intriguing personal history has been reprised over and over in articles too numerous to mention. A designated child prodigy and a Methodist minister's daughter, Amos was writing her own music on the piano at age four. Booted out of an elite conservatory at age 12 for composing tunes that didn't quite fit the classical mold, she went on to cut her teeth in front of audiences by performing at gay piano bars. One failed attempt at heavy metal later, she became a '90s female icon.
Now, at 32, Amos is still breaking the rules when it comes to tickling the ivories -- in her case, bashing the keys of her Bosendorfer piano and harpsichord, all the while transfixed, eyes rolled back in their sockets as she shivers, quakes, moans and even sings. On her latest CD, Boys for Pele, the woman declared one of the world's 50 most beautiful people by People takes listeners on a rather bleak tour of the messed up, sometimes sociopathic, lives we lead.
Unusual stuff. Unique stuff. Even so, those who continue to maintain that Amos is part of another solar system aren't listening very closely. On disc and in performance, she may seem blissfully adrift in a collage of disjointed ideas and musical styles, but love her or hate her, she knows what she's doing. And she's having her way with you whether you like it or not. -- Greg Barr.
Tori Amos performs at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Monday, June 17, at Cullen Performance Hall, University of Houston. Sold out. For info, call 629-3700.
Fishbone -- A lot of writers have twisted a lot of stylistic shorthand into knots trying to coin a handy niche-phrase for Fishbone, but there's just not a handy niche-phrase to be had. The band's eclecto-funk (there, I did it, too) has moved from ska-heavy to metal-heavy since the glory days of the 1985 EP Fishbone, and the current lineup of vocalist Angelo Moore, bassist Norwood Fisher, drummer "Fish" Fisher, guitarist John Bigman and trumpeter "Dirty Walt" Kibby II isn't everything it used to be (though good luck finding a soft spot in the sound), but Fishbone's doing plenty more than still just kicking. The band's new CD, Chim Chim's Badass Revenge, is a P-Funk-esque theme rant built around the Speed Racer trunk-monkey character who plays the role of a "metaphorical slave monkey" who is "caught in a contractual nut lock." Since this is Fishbone's first appearance on Rowdy Records (after a long stint on Columbia), it's not hard to read between the lines and find a record industry morality tale. The music remains hard to categorize, though. It's loud, fast, angry, accomplished, unafraid and supremely funkable. That is to say, it's unmistakably Fishbone. At the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue, Friday, June 14. With Ground Turkey and57 Farm Dogs. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.863-7173. (Brad Tyer)
Mike Johnson -- As the latest bassist for Dinosaur Jr., Mike Johnson has sampled the limelight through being the bleached-out, short-haired foil to band leader J. Mascis' "hippie-punk son of Neil Young" persona. But he's been less visible and more subdued as a solo artist. That may change with Year of Mondays, his second solo release and a stunningly accomplished sophomore effort, which features an involving mix of grunge-tinged guitar rock and pungent, introspective balladry. Johnson's work recalls mood-driven '60s songwriters Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen as much as it dismisses them with its willingness to explode past the bounds of their melancholy strictures. To chart his own direction, Johnson has taken ideas from his collaboration with Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan on the singer's two starkly beautiful solo efforts, The Winding Sheet and Whiskey for the Holy Ghost. And it appears Johnson has saved the best bits of what he learned for himself. Lush and intricate in its arrangements, Year of Mondays is a full-on production extravaganza, supported by a string section and a list of collaborators that includes Mascis (on drums), Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin (on bass) and the Seattle band Juned. As if Johnson really needed their help. At the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam, Saturday, June 15. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5, 21 and up; $7, 18 to 20. 225-0500. (Hobart Rowland)
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