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AMOS AWES FANS WITH MUSICAL QUAKES

There are certain things in life that must be seen and heard, things so difficult to put in words that description would simply be an exercise in futility and inadequacy. Such is the music of Tori Amos.

Amos, who performed Tuesday at a sold-out Murray Park Amphitheatre, is a brilliant craftsman of words, delving fearlessly into darkly personal and disturbing topics with a maturity that belies her youth and inexperience. Given time, greatness seems inevitable.In concert, her only tools were a Stein grand piano and an incredible voice that ranged from breathy whispers ("Leather") to shrieks that split the crisp night air like a razor through soft butter ("Little Earthquakes").

Amos recently returned from a European tour in support of "Little Earthquakes," her first album (Polydor), and she immediately took command of the audience. When someone talked boisterously during her a cappella opening, she stopped the show, told the man to shut up or leave, and demanded total silence. She got it.

In fact, Amos' music so captivated the 800 or so in attendance that the only extraneous sounds to be heard the rest of the show was crickets chirping and an occasional passing airplane. The deathly quiet mood was properly reflective of the pensive, mostly serious nature of her music.

Most of her material was from "Little Earthquakes," beginning with the haunting "Crucify" and moving effortlessly into "Silent All These Years" and "Precious Things." Her passion for the piano was immediately obvious, and her style of playing was obviously sensual, mirroring Amos' lyrical obsession with religion and sexuality.

Her playing style (she first attended a piano conservatory at age 5) can only be described as intense. She virtually squirmed on the piano stool like an impatient toddler waiting for church to get out.

One of the evening's most emotional moments came with an a cappella rendition of "Me and a Gun," a thinly veiled song about sexual assault she says she wrote in order to deal with her own personal ghosts.

A couple of times, Amos added her own distinctive interpretation to rock classics like "Whole Lotta Love" and "Angie," both of which took on a whole different kind of intensity with Amos at the controls.

Her one weakness, and it's not a fatal flaw, is the lack of musical diversity: After five or six songs, they all begin to sound the same. It's a tunnel-vision problem common to singer-songwriters (John Gorka comes immediately to mind) who seize upon a particular musical tone and refuse to budge beyond that narrow focus.

No one in attendance seemed to mind, though, as the wildly enthusiastic crowd brought her back for two encores.

Opening for Tori Amos was "E," a quirky songwriter with a penchant for dark, angry songs, but who worked the crowd like a stand-up comedian between songs. The humor was sophomoric, yet a welcome relief from the brooding nature of the rather formula pop music.

There were a handful of good songs: the Byrds-esque sound of "Nowheresville," the Beatles-style harmony of "She Loves Me Like a Puppet" and the pleasantly acoustic "Mockingbird Franklin." But all in all, E's songs seemed forced and unimaginative.

Hey E: Lighten up a little bit. Put some humor in your songs. Or maybe some wry wit. And forget that cover of "Freebird."