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SXSW: Amanda Palmer gets real about abortion in improvised set

Kayleigh Hughes, special to the American-Statesman
Amanda Palmer performed at South by Southwest 2019. [Contributed by Kahn & Selesnick]

In a strikingly intimate moment during Amanda Palmer’s South by Southwest set at Patreon’s House of Creativity on Monday, the artist asked everyone in the crowd, “If you have, or have taken someone to, an abortion, raise your hand.” At least half the hands in the venue shot up, and suddenly there sprang a palpable tenderness between attendees, whether we wanted it or not.

From there, Palmer broke into an achingly lovely rendition of “Voicemail for Jill,” a new song off her latest release, "There Will Be No Intermission," which she describes as “an 80-minute double LP about my friend dying of cancer," as well as about abortion and miscarriage. Palmer’s performance of “Voicemail for Jill” felt powerful, radical and necessary, making me think an entire set of tracks from "Intermission" would have been a wonderful gift of a set.

However, Palmer admitted during a rambling 15-minute improvised monologue at the beginning of the 40-minute set that she was terribly tired and not quite sure what she wanted to do onstage. “I might just talk. I really don’t care, I’ve learned not to care.” Finally freeing herself from validation from “industry people” feels like “I’ve won!” she exclaimed. Wary of bringing down the “party” mood of SXSW, Palmer asked the audience to vote by raised hands about whether they’d be willing to hear tracks from her self-described “sad song album,” and though the audience was game, the multi-instrumentalist shied away for the most part.

Palmer spoke a lot, cycling through topics such as Taylor Swift’s “goth” phase, jokes she’s heard husband Neil Gaiman tell and musings about writing songs on the spot. But while Palmer is such a talented performer and songwriter that she can ride the “first thought, best thought” ethos pretty far, the approach has its limits, and the performance of “Voicemail for Jill” hinted at the possibility of a more polished, more edited set that would have put the emotional power of the music at the forefront.


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