We made the long journey downtown (5 minutes!) to catch Tori's show at the Hobby Center, AKA the ripoff joint that adds a $9.50 service charge to each ticket. Nonetheless, it was worth it all, even if the Hobby Center staff seemed a bit nonplussed by the young tattooed and hair-challenged crowd. Like the couple sitting behind us, they had no idea what they were in for. The Chronicle had made jokes about the "Tori's Piano Bar" section of the concert (where she plays audience requests sent over the internet), saying she wouldn't be playing "Freebird." "So, what's this Freebird she won't be playing?" asked the annoyingly loud clueless woman of her neighbor. The kids explained it was a song by Lynyrd Skynyrd, who no doubt was similarly unknown to her. She not-so-surreptitiously complained about not being able to see over my hair, as if I had Texas hair. Hey, at least she wasn't sitting behind Gene! Being at the front of a section, we also had voluminous leg room -- hurrah!
The opening acts were both good. Gone were the whiny boys of the past couple tours. First up was The Like, a trio from SoCal who play stripped down rock. The bassist looked about 14 and the drummer like Cousin Itt, but they played straighforward music despite the vocalist being a bit muffled. After that the Ditty Bops came on. They were fun and playful, a sort of jazzy bluegrass style like a stripped down Squirrel Nut Zippers meets Dame Darcy.
Tori came out in a pink chiffon dress and played "Original Sinsuality" against a backdrop of a big apple tree with a snake curled around it. As usual, the audience was screaming for her. She segued into a rather long journey through "Beauty Queen" and "Horses." So it was a surprise when she dipped further back and produced "Caught a Lite Sneeze" which sounds quite different with only her own accompaniment; although, as usual she was doing a lot of the dual keyboard playing -- one hand on a piano, the other on an organ, and her swaying between. Also as usual, it was a treat to see her intereact with fans, complementing them on being "such great comrades" and happily complying with shouted demands to "show your shoes!" (she's well known for her shoe fetish).
A note on the merchandise table (where Gene bought me the cool pirate bag and an iron-on patch!) said some of the money would be going to the Red Cross for victims of Katrina. Thoughts of New Orleans seemed to guide her choice for the piano bar section. After a long intro about "her survival" she segued into a cover of the Animal's "House of the Rising Sun," although most of audience didn't seem to realize it was a song about New Orleans and that's who "she" was talking about. Tori then tried to figure out a song her make-up assistant requested, which she had never played, but then finally decided it wasn't going to happen and sang her way out of it, "maybe in the encore..." Instead she did Elton John's "Daniel."
There's not so much story telling as in the past -- one of the things I particularly loved -- but she does tend to do longer intros to songs, sometimes incorporating stories, or explaining the genesis of songs, such as the sung introduction to "Taxi Ride," the tribute to her friend, the late Kevyn Aucoin. There was a mood of wistfulness throughout the show, broken by a rare appearance of the sprightly "Happy Phantom." I don't think I have had a chance to hear her play it live before, and the easy joy of its bouncy melody and positive lyrics provided a respite before diving into the depths of "The Beekeeper," a song about the pain of loss and dealing with death.
She came back for two encores, finally ending with a slow rendition of "Baker Baker" before giving her last waves to the adoring crowd. We all trailed out to the parking garage. Since we were on the fifth floor, Gene and I enjoyed the not-completely sweltering night (a rarity!) by leaning over the edge of the wall gazing at downtown (well, you can't see the stars with allt he light pollution). The bayou was an oily black and the gaudy ferris wheel drew the eye. There's not much to see in Houston at night. I remember Ulla saying it looked more like an Eastern European nation. But traffic wasn't moving for a bit, so we spent the time thinking about other concerts -- like running down to NYC from UConn to see Cibo Matto at the Bowery Ballroom when they debuted Stereotype A. A long night, but worth it.
See the whole set list from The Dent.