A lot can happen in a year. Individuals can learn new skills, develop new traits, and go through new life experiences. One of the most interesting components of art is experiencing the growth of a true artist through the passage of time.
Tori Amos demonstrates this component on the DVD Live at Montreux 1991/1992. Featuring two complete concerts from the prestigious music event, this DVD captures the pianist and singer/songwriter at the beginning of her solo career. The disc features a set from 1991 before the release of Little Earthquakes and follows it up with a 1992 set from a few months after the album’s release.
Amos built her early career on the notion of playing music to anyone who would listen. She was advised by her record company to move to West London and begin playing anywhere that would put her on. Tori would play crowds numbering in the single digits at times, but she always poured her heart into the performances and the positive reviews began to roll in.
The positive reviews got the attention of Claude Nobs, organizer of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. With the festival expanding in the 1980s to include a broader spectrum of musicians, Nobs was on the lookout for some new talent. With a bit of buzz over the virtually-unknown Tori Amos, the organizer took a gamble to book her to serve as an opening act to headliners The Moody Blues on July 3, 1991.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the 1991 is the relative ease at which Tori rolls through her songs. She is gracious, soft-spoken, and amazingly gifted. She tenderly assumes her side-saddle piano position, opening her soul to the courteous audience.
Tori’s presence onstage is arresting, as she and her trusty piano are dwarfed by the backdrop of Moody Blues equipment. Without any sort of band or musical accompaniment, there’s something about her that appears small and vulnerable.
Six months before the album’s release, the 1991 set is comprised largely of material from Little Earthquakes. “Crucify,” “Precious Things,” “Silent All These Years,” “Happy Phantom,” and the beautiful “Winter” are all played with proficiency and skill. Her soul laid bare on the stage, Tori closes the set with a delightful rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” as an encore for the admiring listeners.
On the strength of the 1991 show and the release of Little Earthquakes, which peaked at #14 on the UK album charts, she was asked back to Montreux for a July 7, 1992 set.
The difference is striking, as Tori takes to the stage with more confidence and more swagger. The set is again filled with tunes from her solo debut, but there is more polish to them and Amos sings them with even more skill than the first time out. “Crucify” sounds sleeker and “Happy Phantom” is tighter. She rocks the Zeppelin again, too, only this time she morphs “Thank You” on the back of a steamy rendition of “Whole Lotta Love.”
“Me And a Gun” is given the intimate treatment, as Tori holds the microphone and delivers the deeply personal song to the captivated crowd. The ache in her voice is evident, as is her openness.
The 1992 set is concluded with an interesting version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” as Tori gives the Nirvana track the piano treatment.
Live at Montreux 1991/1992 is a brilliant look at one of music’s most compelling figures. Tori Amos performs with vibrancy and cleverness, but it is the contrast between the two sets that really makes for interesting viewing. Compare the “aw, shucks” modesty of the 1991 set with her admonishment to talking audience members in the 1992 set for evidence of her growth as an artist and, perhaps more fascinatingly, as a human being across the space of one year.