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Rock: Lust for married life

NOW FIVE albums into her career, Tori Amos has never had any qualms about matting her personal life in her work. When 1998 From the Choirgirl was largely informed by her miscarriage, parts of her latest album To Venus and Back find Amos reassessing her sex life as a married woman. Can lust survive the nuptials? Can a wife be both Madonna and whore? Amos answers "yes" to both questions.

Privy to such knowledge, one feels a little voyeuristic when considering her relationship with Mark Hawley, the Englishman who is her husband and sound-engineer.

US-born Amos now lives in Cornwall, but tonight's performance was the first on British soil in support of her new album. When she co-headlined a recent US tour with Alanis Morissette, she was accompanied by a three- piece band. In stark contrast, this was stripped down affair with Tori performing solo at the piano.

Successful as many of her more avant-garde excursions are, this is undoubtedly the context in which her technical prowess flourishes and her fans enjoy her most.

Her hair freshly crimped, she took the stage wearing a loose-fitting purple smock, then stood at the mike for an a-capella version of Me and a Gun. Confidence wise, it was a real show of strength, and the audience were immediately in her thrall. Next came Bliss, the first single to be taken from the new album.

Paradoxically, Bliss sounded twice as powerful when it was stripped to its bare bones; the vocal urgent and passionate, the piano playing fluid and agile.

What was striking was just how relaxed Amos seems to be on stage these days. If she splits the critics, the ones who continue to cast her as a manquee Kate Bush don't seem to be getting her down.

At one point in her performance, she related the story about how she's once deputised for Al Stewart's piano player at this venue, and unsure of the year, she asked her mum - who was sitting a few rows in - to confirm the dates.

Tori's father, the Reverend Amos, was also in attendance, and as far as I could make out, neither parent flinched when their daughter peppered her introductions with the f-word.

Ecumenicalism begins at home.

Set highlights included Professional Widow, still surprisingly powerful minus its four-on-the-floor drum loop, and her cover of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit, which transformed the grunge anthem of the early Nineties into a beautiful threnody for Kurt Cobain himself.

As a critic, I'll confess that sometimes I'm tempted to tone down my enthusiasm for an artist after reading negative reviews elsewhere. I came here tonight to be a little tougher on Tori Amos, but once again, she won me over.

Put simply, you can't stop a diamond from sparkling.