Tori Amos certainly knows how to make an entrance. On Tuesday night, the enigmatic singer-songwriter kicked off the first of three Gotham shows on her solo American tour by pitching the Beacon Theater into total darkness — a black hole from which emanated the sepulchral sound of her version of Eminem’s murder allegory “Bonnie and Clyde ’97.” It was a fittingly eerie beginning to what would prove to be a haunting performance.
The stage trappings — a semi-circle of simple, stretched fabric hangings that shifted shape with each shift in mood — were every bit as stark as Amos’ unvarnished perf. She spent most of the 100-minute set seated at a grand piano, and occasionally slipping off to play one of two organs situated on the otherwise bare floorboards.
Although ostensibly touring in support of the just-released Atlantic album “Strange Little Girls” (which consists of a dozen oddball covers), Amos focused largely on earlier material — even going back so far as to reclaim a long-disavowed ditty from her stint fronting Y Kan’t Tori Read.
While not radically revamped, the proffered versions of “Icicle” and “Crucify” — the latter of which took some white-knuckled melodic swerves — both played up Amos’ insistent restlessness. The same could be said of her take on Lloyd Cole’s “Rattlesnakes,” which rose in aching arcs quite unlike the ones captured on “Strange Little Girls.”
Amos has always been prone to capriciousness as a singer — leaping octaves, stretching notes oddly — but this perf showed her to be palpably more controlled, capable of coaxing subtly jazzy inflections from “China” and “Cooling” and ratcheting up the energy level on “Sweet Dreams.”
The most affecting number — as is invariably the case when it’s slipped into the setlist — was the autobiographical rape narrative “Me and a Gun.” Amos’ a capella near-whisper, virtually drained of emotion, made the song difficult to listen to but impossible to ignore.
An encore medley of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” and “Over the Rainbow” (both performed with wistful charm and a total lack of irony) proved Amos’ tonal palette to be broader than one might imagine. Those few points of wan light pierced the gloom beautifully, more than making up for the lack of sunshine in Tori’s cloudy day.
Amos performs at L.A.’s Wiltern Theater Nov. 15-17.