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Amanda Palmer | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Amanda Palmer walked onstage tonight with a big glass of red wine and a lot to say. That’s nothing unusual for the artist, who is known for her unabashed embrace of writing political issues into her evocative songs. The major difference between this set and any of her others, though, had to do with time. Palmer is used to playing a set that lasts at least four hours, especially on her current tour behind her new album There Will Be No Intermission. Tonight she had 20 minutes.

Palmer may only be able to fit two of her songs into that amount of time, but she also takes the time to talk frankly with the audience — there’s a story behind each of her songs, and its helpful to hear it spoken as well as sung. (Those who attended Palmer’s conversation with World Cafe’s Talia Schlanger earlier in the day had the chance to hear even more about the inspiration and motivation behind Palmer’s music.)

From her center stage perch behind her keyboard, Palmer asked the audience a question that some seemed taken aback by: “Who here has had a legal abortion?” That theme is something the songwriter has experienced on a personal level while also watching it unfold in the public sphere as an ever-present political issue. Palmer was in Ireland last year when the notoriously conservative country voted to legalize abortion; after joining women celebrating in the streets, she wrote the heart-wrenching “Voicemail for Jill,” singing “No one’s gonna celebrate you, no one’s gonna bring you cake … No one on that pavement’s gonna shout at you that your heart also matters.”

Introducing the second song, Palmer dwelled on her unconventional approach to making music. After breaking free from the confines of a major label, she now funds the entirety of her artistic output through the crowdfunding platform Patreon. The creative freedom has given her an independence that allows her to make music on her own terms and write songs that deal with any issue that resonates with her. “Drowning in the Sound” tackles climate change with crashing keys and piercing high notes, like a musical version of the hurricane that inspired it.

With her stark and stirring songs, Palmer offers no protection from brutal reality. As she said in the earlier interview, she doesn’t necessarily want to be onstage every night singing about a woman’s right to choose. Rather, she feels like the kind of music creates has to exist. Someone has to do it. So Amanda Palmer steps up to the plate.

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