Tori Amos | still from video
Watch Tori Amos give Philly a sneak preview of From The Choirgirl Hotel at the Electric Factory in 1998
As I write this post, it is day 46 of self-isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s probably safe to say we are all missing concerts a whole heck of a lot right now. To channel some of that energy and emotion, here’s an amazing one from the archives — Tori Amos headlining the Electric Factory just before the release of her fourth album, From The Choirgirl Hotel.
Recorded by Philly videographer Markit Aneight on April 26th, 1998, it captures a pivotal and all-too-brief moment in Amos’ career trajectory. She’d spent the previous decade building her name and a devoted fanbase on the strength of creative, compelling songwriting and a dynamic live show where theater crowds could be held entranced by her and her Bosendorfer alone.
Choirgirl — or more specifically, its Plugged Tour — was the proverbial next step for Amos, and for her most rock-oriented collection of songs to date, she enlisted a rock band to back her up, her first extended run with other players. This show was their Philadelphia debut, and landed just over a week ahead of the release of Choirgirl. Backed by Steve Caton on guitar, Matt Chamberlain on drums, and Jon Evans on bass, it was billed as a Sneak Preview show, both of the album and of the band that would be playing much bigger spaces as the year unfolded.
You would never guess that the crowd was hearing this music for the first time, though. On the opening “Black Dove (January),” the excitement of their cheers is palpable once the downbeat verse begins on the line “She was a January girl” (to be fair, these are also the screams of mega-fans hearing Amos’ voice in the PA for the first time of the evening), and as the chorus takes the song into blast-off territory and the room lights up, the roar is deafening. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching this 20-something years later, from your living room or laptop; you will get chills.
The setlist spotlights eight of Choirgirl‘s twelve songs — Tori grooves at the piano bench to the hulking rhythm of “iieee,” delivers “Spark” with gusto (this was already an MTV hit), and gets contemplative on “Jackie’s Strength” — with selections from Under The Pink, Little Earthquakes, and a couple Boys For Pele tracks in the mix as well. “China,” “Icicle,” and “Cloud On Your Tongue” were given the solo treatment, with a disco ball lighting up the room like snowflakes on the latter, for a completely enchanting effect.
Though this band only existed for this tour, and Amos’ tours in the decades since have been looser configurations of some backing players and no backing players — and are awesome in their own right, as you’ll read in Kristen Kurtis’ recap of her 2017 Tower Theater show — there was something unique and special about this particular moment in her timeline. Thankfully the Choirgirl-era band was captured for posterity on the live disc of Amos’ next albun, To Venus And Back, and we have wonderful archival videos like this one as well. Watch below.Setlist
i i e e e
Putting the Damage On
Tear in Your Hand
She’s Your Cocaine
Cloud on My Tongue (Solo)