Tori Amos plugs in for Hub visit

by Sarah Rodman

Pop music's most famous unplugged artist is plugging in this summer.
 Songstress Tori Amos has lugged her piano, and sometimes harpsichord, around like best friends on recent tours.  But for her fourth album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," she decided it was time to get amped.
 "I wanted to establish the piano, to show what it could do in a contemporary world, and that's why I toured with it by myself:  to show a piano alone can hold 5,000 people for an hour and a half.  It can be done," said Amos, 34.
 "(The audience) might be ready to slit their wrists," she says with a laugh, "but it can be done.  And I felt really strongly about it."
 Amos feels equally strong about touring with a band on her Plugged '98 tour, which comes to the FleetCenter tomorrow.
 "I think for me it was a promise I made to my instrument when I was small hat I would explore it in different ways," she said.  "So that was one way, stripped down, by itself, and then it started progressing, and now it's pretty integrated with players that I deeply respect.  It's not a gratuitous studio band" -- her backing trio consists of her longtime guitarist, Steve Caton, drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans -- "and it doesn't sound like that either.  It's really about us working as a team."
 Amos and her band amply proved that point at a recent sneak preview at Avalon.  Chamberlain especially gave voice to a type of sweeping, dramatic pulse that has always been a part of Amos' records, particularly "Choirgirl," whose songs seemed to demand a bigger beat, Amos said.
 Still, her songs remain very personal.
 The North Carolina-born daughter of a Methodist preacher has never shied away from the painfully personal or provocative:  from her 1992 debut "Little Earthquakes," on which she sang about her own rape, through references to sexual relations with God on "Under the Pink" (1994) and interracial sex on "Boys for Pele" (1996).
 Musically, "Choirgirl" includes tender piano playing, string-laden ballads ("Jackie's Strength"), aquatic trip-hop and big-beat, guitar-centered rock 'n' roll.
 Lyrically, Amos delves into her childhood, her recent marriage and a miscarriage she suffered in 1996.
 The latter subject, on the song "Spark," has caused Amos to suffer some critical slings and arrows.
 "There's always somebody ready to take a shot," she said.  "This one male journalist said to me, `You've used everything;  you've even used the death of your child to sell records.'"
 After discerning that the man was a parent, she asked him whether he had lost any children.  He said no.  "I said, `I hope it doesn't happen to you, but if it happens to you, I hope you don't have some (jerk) like you say that to you.'"
 The sometimes eccentric Amos remains contentedly unrepentant.
 "You have to be clear with yourself," she said.
 And finding that clarity means exploring through music whatever brings Amos joy or pain.  She's still attempting to figure it all out for herself.
 "You can only write from your own experience," Amos said.  "That's the one place you do have all-access-are passes to, though most of us don't know how to get there.  Including myself."
 Tori Amos plays the FleetCenter, Boston, tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets:  $27.50.  Call (617) 931-2000. 

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