Cabaret singer honeymoons in Vancouver with husband Neil Gaiman
// Amita Matrie and Tiara Jung

Amanda Palmer has been all over the map lately. After rocking the cabaretpunk duet The Dresden Dolls for several years, the piano-and-ukulele-player extraordinaire split from her musical partner Brian Viglione in 2008 and unleashed her solo project Who Killed Amanda Palmer? The project unravelled into a 12-track album accompanied by 12 music videos and a book composed of artful photographs of a dead Palmer, accompanied by short stories written by renowned fantasy writer Neil Gaiman.

The internet community was fascinated with the pairing of two such eccentric personalities, and many followers entertained the possibility of the two pursuing a relationship. And in a case of rumour becoming reality, Palmer and Gaiman announced their relationship in the summer of 2009, and were wed in January 2011.

The two have many things in common, aside from the fact that Palmer hates Vegemite, which Gaiman reportedly enjoys. The British TV show Doctor Who is one example. Gaiman in fact wrote an episode for the most recent series and Palmer sang a song about her love for the programme with Reggie Watts – a performance that almost aired as part of a Doctor Who special, but ended up on the cutting room floor.

They have also plunged headfirst into musical collaboration, with the pair holing themselves up in a room with Ben Folds and Damian Kulash of OKGO to create eight songs in eight hours. Recently, they embarked on the ultimate collision of their art and set off on a tour called An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer, which rolled through Vancouver on Nov. 6.

With stage decorations donated by Bard on the Beach, the Vogue Theatre was transformed into an intimate environment, which may have had some influence in the amount of public displays of affection. As Amanda reported, “You guys have gotten the most of the lovey-dovey bullshit this tour!”

Thematically and stylistically, their art is almost spookily harmonized. However, moments of sharp contrast in stage presence between the two artists created a dynamic and meandering performance. The steady rhythm of Gaiman’s recitations punctuated by Palmer’s vigorous, unbridled songs had the quality of an unpredictable adventure. Both are dealers in fantasy tinged with horror, and neither shy at the exploration of sensitive subject matters such as murder, paedophilia, stalking, or any number of taboo behaviours.

The evening included a brief “Ask Neil & Amanda” session, during which the couple answered fan-submitted questions. Neil, when asked if he felt uncomfortable scripting such dark things, replied that fiction is fiction, and when constructing a character one has to go all the way. Though Palmer did not directly respond to the question, her appearance in music videos such as “What’s the Use of Wondrin’?” seems to reflect this philosophy: In the beautifully filmed performance, Palmer sings as a dedicated housewife, smilingly trying to affirm her relationship with her husband, a character who is implied as being guilty of wife battery. Though unflinching in their choice of controversial material, the sardonic nature with which they deliver seems to confront humanity in a manner that is pointed and moving, if at times disturbing.

The show continued late into the evening despite the fact that the pair had already whirled through two so-called Ninja Gigs, a style of impromptu performance adopted by Palmer, one at a the Fluevog shoe store in Gastown, and the other at the Occupy Vancouver camp. It is notable to say that in every city the couple landed in for the tour, they have been at the corresponding Occupy site, with Amanda adding fuel to the movement with her ukulele.

Gaiman joined his wife for several songs, providing vocals for “Makin’ Whoopie” in addition to reciting several pieces of poetry and short stories from his notebook. Borrowing characters from every source imaginable, including Maleficent of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and a living statue, Gaiman’s deep voice and hint of an English accent likely left the audience jealous of the bedtime stories Palmer might enjoy.

When Palmer took the stage, she doesn’t so much play her instruments as unleash herself upon them. Sitting down on her piano bench, she said, “I can’t play the piano, I just use the force.”

Her songs ranged from the frantic and halting number “It Runs in the Family”, to an ode to Judy Blume.

The final piece of the night was a ukulele rendition of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, sung in honour of the young woman who passed away the Occupy Vancouver camp. This rallying song for humanity and the simplicity of art brought the night to its climatic end.

// Amita Maria & Tiare Jung, writers
// Photograph by Tiare Jung

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