With people lining up outside the Vogue Theatre more than five hours before Amanda Palmer was scheduled to take the stage, #NinjaVan was almost as difficult a ticket to score as TED2014. But with a Palmer wristband only costing you a donation to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society, it was definitely a cheaper evening than TED’s US$7,500 sticker price.
Standing in line for a few hours in unseasonably cold weather last night (March 19) was worth it, considering Palmer brought what seemed like an endless stream of TED speakers with her (seven, plus significant other Neil Gaiman, to be precise).
A determined 1,100 or so were let inside the Vogue around 9 p.m. and feeling warm and fuzzy soon enough.
“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to our fucking mess,” Palmer offered in the way of a greeting.
Organized on less than three days’ notice, the evening was a bit disorganized—“beautifully structured chaos”, in Palmer’s words.
Wine and a bottle of Writers Tears whiskey didn’t last long after it found its way into the hands of Vancouver's Orkestar Slivovica brass band, which opened the event and hung out on stage for the rest of the evening. There was a whole lot of kicking over furniture. And TED speakers with a collective Twitter following to rival Katy Perry flopped around stage-left, flirting with one another in the quirky genius way that they will.
The whole thing wasn’t so much a concert but closer to how I imagine a dinner party unfolding at the Palmer-Gaiman household. And that of course suited everybody in attendance just fine.
After Palmer opened things up with “In My Mind”, Gaiman appeared as the evening’s first surprise guest. He delivered an uncomfortably amusing rendition of Leon Payne’s “Psycho”, a number Gaiman and Palmer performed together in public for the first time ever during a previous trip through Vancouver.
Long-time Palmer tour-buddy Jason Webley was there, too. And he sang an adorable song about a life goal to acquire a giraffe.
Next up was the first of a trio of TED speakers. Chris Kluwe, a former American football player turned equality advocate, talked about empathy, augmented reality, nuclear explosions, and high-school bullies. The “most peculiar and unexpected” of the people you meet at TED, was how Gaiman described him.
Kluwe was followed by Del Harvey, Twitter’s “head of safety”, who explained that it was largely her job to save us from ourselves. And she was followed by Imogen Heap, a London-based musician who managed to turn the audience into a surprisingly good-sounding trio of backup singers.
Taking a quick break from the TED theme then, Vancouver accordion virtuoso Geoff Berner delivered a lesson in how to say “fuck the police” in Russian. (Daloy Polizei!)
Back to TED: After a three-minute intermission, a beautifully talented group of younger musicians associated with the TED Fellows program did things with strange instruments that you almost had to see to believe. Unfortunately I can’t read the names that I scribbled down in my notes for them but if somebody helps me in the comments section below I’ll update this paragraph. (Update: Those TED Fellows in attendence were Usman Riaz, David Moinina Sengeh, Bora Yoon, Dan Visconti, and Susie Ibarra. Thanks to Lucianne Walkowicz for supplying those names.)
After the fellows, Amy Cuddy of Wonder Woman fame—who once worked as a waitress on roller skates, in case you didn’t know—goofed around with Palmer for a bit and brought everybody in the room to their feet for a few minutes of extra testosterone and cortisol.
Sarah Kay, who’s spoken at TED conferences a few times now, then delivered a spoken-word performance inspired by the passing of Nelson Mandela.
Delivering one of quite a few surprises of the night, Palmer revealed that she’ll be doing something at this Saturday’s BIL event (March 22), and that Gaiman will also be making an appearance. (Tickets for this event are pay-what-you-want, so if you missed the March 19 #NinjaVan gig, here’s your second chance.)
Palmer then took a minute to address criticisms of TED's rather steep ticket prices. "Am I sucking the dick of the Illuminati?" she wondered aloud? No, she decided, TED shares ideas online for free and that's a good thing.
#NinjaVan's final guest received the loudest round of applause of the evening. Canada’s astronaut-turned-superhero, Chris Hadfield, delighted the audience with a cover of a certain David Bowie song that I’ll leave you to guess the name of.
Things then took a turn for the surreal, with Palmer performing “Astronaut” for Hadfield while he took a seat at the side of the stage and obliged fans’ requests for selfies.
Finally, “Ukulele Anthem” brought the evening to a close, possibly a little later than the Vogue is used to staying open, but definitely before people were ready to go home.
Yes, it was all exactly how I imagine a Palmer-Gaiman dinner party going down.