Hot. Humid. Sticky. July 31st, 1992, was one stifling Chicago day. A scoop of Cherry Garcia rapidly dissolved in its sugar cone before I could enjoy it. But that’s okay, because after the cruel sun goes down, life pulses through my city, as it did when dynamic singer-songwriter Tori Amos came to perform at Park West that evening.

Tori was touring 'Little Earthquakes', a deeply confessional debut, which was as influential to her 90s audience as Carole King’s 'Tapestry' was to her own counter-culture fans, several decades earlier. Some say artists such as the likes of Fiona Apple or Vanessa Carlton were allowed free reign because of Tori’s truthfulness, but the list goes on. That said, she is also self-sufficient. A friend told me that he had seen Tori pull a socket wrench out of her purse to tune a piano at a smaller neighborhood pub, before this gig.

The Park West, which no longer exists, was the epicentre for artists, who would then go on to be super stars and who might not come back to such an intimate space; and though I would see Tori perform at huge arenas in the following years, I would never be as touched as I was that night, but it might not have happened at all, except for an angel.

First of all, the concert was sold out when I got there. I was sitting there, silently, with my two then young children on the steps – pouting, mad at the careless sun, mad at myself for poor planning and discouraged because I actually had a babysitter, but no tickets.

Deus Ex Machina. Enter angel with flowing, unruly red curls, enormous green eyes and high top sneakers, who flew out of a taxi. Essentially she asked: “Why do you look so sad?” Literally, not looking up, I told the stranger that I had my heart set on tonight’s concert, but I guess I was too late.

It was a surreal moment, and, oddly, it took me a few minutes to realize that when the stranger bounced over to the ticket office and put me on the guest list, that I should stand up and say “thank you.” In fact, even now my fuzzy mind can’t remember if I properly thanked Tori. But, now, Tori, “thank you.” I apologize for my lack of manners. I just never met a rock star before who bandaged my life together in less then five minutes.

Amos is what I consider a “woman’s singer, who certain men seem to understand.” I know I’m being biased, even sexist to think that she only belongs to us, but what other artist, born of the 90s, can describe the perplexing thoughts that dominate the formative years of the female with not just spot on lyrics, but haunting melodies and arrangements that seemingly come from another century? It’s as if Chopin and George Sands played ‘Chopsticks,’ merging both sensibilities, both sets of talents.

Her first number, ‘Song for Eric’ found her hugging the mic, while scanning faces, and this gave us a chance to take in her flawless register. “You know me the nightingale,” she whispered, that faint tremolo and almost Irish brogue creeping through her phrases. Brave? Oh, yes.

Singing without a band, without even her gleaming Boisendorfer, her voice was fully exposed. Later, on ‘Leather’, even more of her persona was exposed: “Look I’m standing naked before you…”

The serious momentum began when she sang ‘Crucify.’ “Everyday we crucify ourselves…” It was the catchiest of choruses and one which rang so true - those nagging feelings of self-doubt that we tend to magnify? Tori captured the dirt beneath our nails with urban images and bold progressions.

Then ‘Silent All These Years’ caught me and most everyone in the room by the throat. The queen of melody simply touched the keys and they took off, like the notes of a player piano. The empathetic intro proceeded Amos’ quintessential “really deep thoughts.”

I remember hearing people breath, and saw moist tears. The interior of Park West supported these feelings. Seated at circular tables, with elbow room, near the stage, the echo of the grand piano resounded brightly like a church bell at the Sistine Chapel, on Christmas Day.

‘Precious Things’ is another song that brought out the tissues. Compounded by a jittery, unforgiving riff, Tori’s voice demonstrated anguish. The song was about childhood, about “Christian boys,” about being called “an ugly girl.” Whose childhood has been unaffected by rejection? Looking around, or clamping eyes shut, the feeling was the same. Our imperfections drove us to tears, but we survived. Magically ugly girls turned into swans.

After plunging us into the horrors of puberty, Tori got us to laugh. ‘Happy Phantom’ has some of the quirkiest lyrics of her career. There is that loopy energy and flipped-out progression too that finds her ambling up and down the grand. It’s a “what-if”, done innocently, almost childishly.

While ‘Tear in Your Hand’ was not the most memorable, nor the most personable, ‘Me and a Gun’ was. It is a simple, a cappella song, which chronicles sexual assault. This was another brave effort. An inspiration. Who else had/has the guts to air such feelings in a public place, especially in a world in which women remain volatile?

It is no secret that Amos studied classical form, but adored classic rock. ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ a Led Zeppelin cover, which even earmarks musos like Willie Dixon, put the singer in a new light. She followed it up with another Led Zeppelin track and then sang the aforementioned punky, slowmo ‘Leather.’ She might have ended the set with 'Little Earthquakes', had the audience not demanded an encore.

But back she came with a Nirvana cover, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ and the sad, bewildering ‘Mother,’ another song that speaks to the heart. It is a cacophonous theme that parallels the mother bird urging her newborn: “Go, go, go go now. Out of the nest” and the frazzled human mother. I honestly feel tears still when watching a mother bird flying low, carrying a twig to feather her home. Amos, with her intuitive grasp of language and command of her instrument, expressed the agony of letting go…“Don’t cry/You raised your hands for the assignment/Tuck those ribbons under your helmet.”

There were men there too. Though Amos writes extraordinarily about little girls putting their hands in their fathers’ glove, and carousel horses, her writing has traditionally commanded the attention of both genders.

Maybe some were dragged by their women and others came solo, like the one with the very parched voice who shouted, “I love you, Ellen” during a brief pause in the set list. Tori seemed honestly surprised that a fan would know her real name, although it seems now to be common knowledge that Amos’ fans know her life story inside and out.

After singing ‘Mother’ and exposing her most vulnerable moments, the gorgeous woman came back for a few more. She started with the broad, parallel chords of fragile ‘China’ and finished off with a cover of ‘Angie’, during which she swayed those lovely Rock Goddess hips and flared those emerald eyes. Gig of a Lifetime? Without a doubt.











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