Tori Scott : ‘Thirsty’
14th March 2018
This show was sheer delight. Opening with a hi-energy power anthem, ‘I’m Feelin’ Sexy And Free’, the voluptuous powerhouse that is the American diva, Tori Scott, began as she meant to go on. And go on she did! No prisoners were taken in her relentless display of charisma, strength, beauty of voice and expression, all interleaved with her clever, sassy New Yorker commentary: ‘This is not a show that is going to make you happy. It won’t change you. It won’t leave you thinking the world is a better place. (Pause) Just the opposite’.
But before we got to the jokes – oh, so many jokes! – we had to join her on power anthem No. 2, ‘Climb’, bringing more swing into the sound of her ace trio of MD Adam Wachter, piano, Jamie Wilkins, bass and Lisa Martin, drums. Wachter and she are old NYC chums, and so pally that she was happy to identify him as ‘single, vers-bottom’: Scott is nothing is not aware of her followings, and the gay contingent is a big and much loved one. Rather in the manner of the Better Midler of the St Mark’s Baths days, she plays to that gallery as much as the gin-and-tonic crowd in from Hampstead and Holland Park, who also love her and turn out in their respectable numbers to pay court.
And, why not, when one can forget reality (one of her explicitly identified objectives) in the company of such an endearingly vampish anti-heroine, ladelling on the grimy anecdotes that decontextualise so much of her repertoire? Thus, a quippy story about a passenger on the subway exposing himself to her in an act of self-gratification segues with eerie appositeness into ‘Zing, Went The Strings Of My Heart’. She is a big woman, with a big voice, and a colossal nerve, and she can cosily double the tempo after that number to take in ‘The Trolley Song’ too, with Wachter giving it lots of splashy orchestral effects on his well-fingered instrument.
A sense of quasi-reality intruded with some wisely chosen showbiz gossip stories, leaning in to her own origins, and telling us about the ‘gay dads’ who befriended her in the acultural depths of provincial Arlington, Texas, where the first show she discovered was ‘Evita’. Cue: ‘What’s New, Buenos Aires?’, given a jumpingly Latin going-over by the souped up band. And then, a ‘poppers’ story ramped us up into a medley of ‘I’m Flying’ and ‘Wake Me Up When It’s Over’. This took us to some rather more sobering reflections on the current state of the US nation, mixed in with the happy funk of Janelle Monae’s ‘Tightrope’, given more soul here than we might be used to. Scott has got a few more years on her, and can find resonances in these songs that younger singers just don’t know are there (unless, of course, they happen to be Judy Garland).
This then brought us to another musical land, Queen and Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’. To hear what the extraordinary voice of Tori Scott did with this was a wonder to hear: every time you think you’ve got the measure of her, she takes you somewhere new. And how she performs it, too! This number was done a la Lindsay Lohan, complete with manic clambering through the auditorium, up and down the aisle, crowned with the observation: ‘According to Google, that’s the American version of the NHS’.
Next stop: Madonna’s ‘And I Feel Like I Just Got Home’, given with more gravitas that you might think possible, even in the hands of such a singer. It was stunning. Better still was to come. Via an anecdote about ghastly Southern Texas Baptist hypocrites we hear the voice of Hozier’s, ‘Take Me To Church’. A simple, pure voice, building to a brassier attack. And then, through warm reminiscences of teen boozing, we got a pert, ‘And Then He Kissed Me’, and ‘Do What You Want With My Body’: bad drinking memories, tying us up with – what else – the ‘Chain of Fools’, and this getting mashed up with ‘I’ve Had A S**t Day’. Even more vodka memories led to some Tindr tales, and that catapulted us into an amazingly honest and exact French rendition of ‘La vie en rose’. Sublime!
A clever transition – from the mistress of such things – brought us to a heartfelt and touching take on ‘Wrecking Ball’ that Scott managed to segue into, of all things, ‘The Man That Got Away’. This last number really stopped the show: she did it with such careful fidelity to Garland’s phrasing, and yet with vocal embellishments and tonal colouring, some drawn from Doris Day, some from Dinah Shore, that made it all her own. Wachter was at his most perfect in the accompaniment. And it was so clear to us that not only is she queen of modern pop rep, she stands firmly in the tradition of the great interpreters of the American Songbook. What a marvel.
Uplift out of this emotional pain came in the form of a drunken rampage through ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’s, ‘I’m Miss Beehive 1963’, culminating in a standing ovation for ‘What’s Going On’, given with all Texas guns blazing. Naturally, there had to be an encore, so we got a sweet and beautiful, ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’, with a kind of Karen -Carpenter-meets-Diana-Ross angelic heart. Oh, yes, Miss Scott. We do wanna. More soon, please!