Amanda Palmer has operated under better conditions than she did on Thursday. She was performing sick, blowing her nose between songs; she was returning home at the end of a tour where she got pilloried on the Internet for how she compensated her auxiliary musicians (or didn’t); and her first night back in the familiar confines of the Paradise wasn’t sold out like her Friday and Saturday shows.
Even so, Palmer at diminished capacity is still more than many artists can muster burning at their hottest. Palmer howled right out of the gate with the slowly raging “Smile (Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen).” And she kept going for just under two hours, keeping up such typical Palmerian touches as having the entire band chaotically switch instruments at the end of every verse of “Missed Me” and singing a closing reprise of “Want It Back” through a megaphone from the balcony.
Matching her beat for beat, her wickedly sharp backing band the Grand Theft Orchestra swerved from the raw, id-fueled chamber pop of “Trout Heart Replica” to the slow, fluid “Bottomfeeder” to the hard, thumping glam blues of drummer Michael McQuilken’s “Magicfuturebox” to the twitchy, energetic New Wave of “Melody Dean,” one after the other. And while the Dresden Dolls’ piano-and-drums original lacked nothing, the addition of guitar and bass made the unhinged “Girl Anachronism” meaner and more aggressive.
Alone at her keyboard, she sang of connubial breakdown on “The Bed Song” and covered Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” She offered the latter in tribute to her recently departed friend Becca Darling (née Rosenthal); Palmer slowed the normally elegiac song to a pained but ever-advancing crawl, making it almost unbearably sad.
But while Palmer has always struggled with darker impulses in her songs, it’s unity and triumph that she holds most dear, and on the set-closing “Leeds United” the stage filled with her string and horn sections and the remaining members of the Grand Theft Orchestra’s show-opening side bands. Buoyed by heavy, slashing piano chords, the song played like a cheering section for, and by, misfits who were going to make it through just fine. And that was Palmer at half strength.