The first commercial DVD release from Tori Amos is long overdue but well worth the wait...and in the words of The Times, "there won't be a better music film this year."
'WELCOME TO SUNNY FLORIDA' captures Tori at the end of a gruelling 10-month tour (plus two months of rehearsal), but she is in sparkling form. Her previous concert video, 1997's 'LIVE FROM NEW YORK,' found her at her most intense and passionate (and at her most uncomfortable), but this finds her at the peak of her powers as an artist.
With six years' worth of more material than the previous video, it is easy to see how Tori's composing has improved since 1997. No longer does she rely wholly on zany lyrics or reckless vocals, but neither is she completely devoid of passion. The songs here that she performs are testament to her abilities as a composer more than anything - she not only writes her songs, but she is responsible for bringing them together and fashioning them in a way suitable to her albums.
The material from her 1992 solo debut 'LITTLE EARTHQUAKES' (with songs written as early as the late 1980s) is reworked here. "Precious Things" is similar to the live version on her 1999 album 'TO VENUS AND BACK', but considerably shorter and featuring an even stronger vocal performance; "Leather" retains its classic barroom swagger; and "Crucify" is elongated to ten minutes, including some spacey 'VENUS'-style verses. This version of the song, complete with a frenetic coda featuring the strongest vocals of her recorded career yet, is a contender for best performance on the DVD.
'UNDER THE PINK' (1994) was a highly impressionistic work, with emphasis on Amos' classical piano rather than band arrangements. But with bassist Jon Evans and drummer/percussionist Matt Chamberlain, the songs' potential as rockier compositions is fully realised, particularly on "Bells for Her," which is now one of Amos' live show stoppers instead of one of her delicate almost-forgotten gems.
1996's experimental, challenging 'BOYS FOR PELE' is thankfully represented here in greater detail than 2003's retrospective album 'TALES OF A LIBRARIAN.' Amos takes the breathy "Father Lucifer" and turns it into one of the concert's grooviest numbers, with Wurlitzer as prime accompaniment instead of piano. "Professional Widow" is one of the most passionate songs to be included here, and contrary to popular belief, the muting of some of the profanities is not a murderous crime to Tori's music; it might interrupt the song's flow slightly, but is not a major loss - if you want to hear the swear words, go listen to 'PELE'.
An absence of material from 1998's 'FROM THE CHOIRGIRL HOTEL' is surprising, considering that it is one of her most band-oriented works, and the underrated electronica of 'VENUS' is represented only by "Concertina," which shows off her penchant for gorgeous melodies and her exquisite keyboard skills, where she plays Rhodes and piano simultaneously.
Amos' ambitious 2001 covers collection 'STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS' is not represented here, but 'SCARLET'S WALK' is, rather obviously considering that the tour is in support of that album. "A Sorta Fairytale," the concert opener, is probably the weakest of the DVD, but the tender "Your Cloud" and dreamy "I Can't See New York" demonstrate the transcendent beauty of her most recent studio work.
The concert also features a couple of jazzy improvisations, possibly pointing in a mellower direction, and some non-studio album songs. "Take to the Sky" and "Sugar" both originate from the 'LITTLE EARTHQUAKES' era and are two of this concert's best performances with their highly percussive rhythms (the former launches for a while into the 'PELE' track "Muhammad My Friend" unexpectedly); "Cooling" is probably the evening's most emotional performance, solo on piano, and was written for 'BOYS FOR PELE' but not included; and "Tombigbee" is an almost R&B-style rocker recorded for 'SCARLET'S WALK' and performed on Wurlitzer and Rhodes. Its studio version finds its way onto the bonus CD here.
The DVD extras include a tour yearbook featuring some stunning photographs while a live version of the 'PINK' song "Past the Mission" plays, mini interviews with Evans and Chamberlain, and in-depth interviews with Tori, and her mother Mary, both separate. Mary's interview gives a particular insight into the world of Tori Amos, because many of Tori's comments are already well-known by her die hard fans (and there are many die hard fans).
The bonus CD, 'SCARLET'S HIDDEN TREASURES,' is a good close to the 'SCARLET'S WALK' era, which has now lasted for almost two years. "Ruby through the Looking-Glass" deals with a frightening encounter during Tori's pregnancy in 2000, "Indian Summer" explores empowerment, "Seaside" was inspired by a young girl's account of a bombing, and the eight-minute "Apollo's Frock" features one of Tori's most beautiful melodies. These four songs feature either just piano and vocal, or some subtle acoustic guitar work from Mac Aladdin. In any case, they are all absolutely essential Tori Amos masterpieces and, in the case of "Apollo's Frock" in particular, hark back to her earlier works while giving a sense that Tori is now eager to rediscover her solo piano roots after six years of playing with a band (since 1998's 'CHOIRGIRL' album). "Tombigbee" is a groovy rocker, and "Bug a Martini" is completely new for Tori, a lounge-style bossa nova featuring James Bond-style imagery of spies, martinis, and the hook "send me to Moscow."
Overall, 'WELCOME TO SUNNY FLORIDA' is an absolutely essential piece for any Tori fan, and even for non-fans it provides a good snapshot into her world (note: it also features the first glimpses of her three-year-old daughter Natashya and shows Tori deciding backstage what to play for her encore - her encores are NOT pre-determined!)
So, I would strongly recommend you investigate this, because Tori Amos is simply the best musician-composer out there today, and her unique approach can be seen in the performances and in her 25-minute interview.
Notable features: improvisational codas in "Crucify" and "Take to the Sky"; simultaneous keyboard work in "Concertina"; three-song solo set mid-concert; beautiful direction from Loren Haynes; full-length interviews; peek at Tori's daughter and behind the scenes footage; the entire bonus CD - this is an essential release.