In my Clark Kent life, I teach rhetoric at a university. In my courses, we talk a lot about a concept called kairos, or a device coined by the philosopher Aristotle as the “opportune moment,” wherein one seizes on the timing of a situation in order to make a connection to an audience. You could say Amanda Palmer’s acoustic set at Thalia Hall was this opportune moment, one where Chicago found itself reeling in a post-Trump election and the general fear and dismay over what his victory symbolizes. The election saw voter turnout hit a 20-year low, with pundits musing that no candidate excited voters enough to come to the polls. In stark contrast, the line to enter Chicago’s Thalia Hall on a chilly Sunday evening wrapped two blocks around the theater, with fans lining up long before doors opened for a chance to get close to the performer.
If Amanda Palmer was running for president, people would fucking show up.
Sure enough, once Palmer took the stage for her piano-driven solo set, one fan shouted from the balcony: Amanda for President! Palmer shook her head, smiled, and said, “I know enough to know that I don’t know enough to be fucking president… unlike some people.” Still, she said, she felt like things were going to get really shitty before they got really good, adding that Trump was going to make art great again. (Let’s hope.)
It wasn’t just the election that created a sense of exigency in Palmer’s set. In addition to mourning an election outcome, many audience members — most especially Palmer — felt themselves grieving for Leonard Cohen, who passed only days prior to the show. Palmer teared up as she discussed covering a Leonard Cohen song with her father, who was not a big part of her childhood, but the two were able to connect through music. Palmer and her father, Jack Palmer, collaborated on a cover album, You Got Me Singing, that featured Cohen’s work.
You Got Me Singing was Palmer’s first entirely crowd-funded album; her decision to eschew a record label seemed perfectly agreeable to her fans in attendance, who when asked by Palmer if they joined her Patreon crowd-funding site, most raised their hand. (“If the person next to you didn’t raise their hand,” Palmer suggested, “Proselytize to them.”) It may be that Palmer sharing her grief so openly with fans in attendance — inviting them closer to the stage during one of her Cohen covers; as well as her joy — sharing a bit about reading Goodnight Moon to her one-year old son — that fuels this rare connection.
Highlights of the evening were the opening “The Killing Type,” as well as the Leonard Cohen covers, “Everybody Knows,” and “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong.” The set was much more subdued overall than some of her more theatrical performances with the Dresden Dolls, for example, but this wasn’t the time for that. It was time for people to come together and grieve, but also to celebrate and connect, with Palmer’s sincerity and genuine rapport with her fans serving as the opportune moment for it.