Jan. 5, 2008
There's always something decadently interesting brewing in The Dresden Dolls' camp and 2007 was no exception. After releasing its sophomore CD Yes Virginia... and the DVD Live at the Roundhouse, the band criss-crossed America in support of the Human Rights Campaign with a colorful cavalcade that included Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry, Erasure, The Cliks and The Gossip, while front woman Amanda Palmer announced she was recording a solo CD with the equally quirky (albeit less over the top) Ben Folds. But with the New Year just settling in, the band is back for a mini-tour to thank fervent followers for their ongoing support through the past few years and make up for lost time in headlining contexts.
And in the outrageous niche that is The Dresden Dolls (often cited as a cross between cabaret punk and theatrical indie rock) was on full display during an unavoidably engaging show that pitted the charismatic Palmer pounding on the piano alongside her equally attention-grabbing partner Brian Viglione on drums. Given the pair's sparse but noisy garage rock surroundings (and male/female ratio), the band's occasionally been compared to The White Stripes, a welcome compliment to just about any act, but one that doesn't seem to do this situation justice.
For starters, a live Dolls experience truly begins from the moment concertgoers enter the venue, with much of the audience decked out as if it were Halloween (ranging from brides to mimes and pretty much everything in between). Consider it like seeing the Scissor Sisters with a gothic twist, only unlike that band, the duo proved to be much more than a novelty once hitting the stage. Even with all the extravagance, facial make-up and general grandeur, the set was strewn with finely oiled chops from the get go, including the musical theater centering of "Missed Me," the bubbly gender bender "Sex Changes" and the dreamy (though eventually escalating) "Glass Slipper."
The night often unfurled a fiery sonic assault as choppy pianos and torpedo-styled percussion thuds permeated tunes like "Coin-Operated Boy," though the gang also stripped down its sound on occasion. During "A Night at the Roses," the pair emerged from behind their traditional instruments to take center stage, with Viglione strapping on an electric guitar. He soon returned to the drum kit for "The Gardener," but managed to simultaneously play the kick pedal and strum the acoustic guitar (as Palmer serenaded the crowd firsthand from an opera box).
Though not incredibly gifted in the vocal department, she still held her own cooing and cackling through the series of dark, brooding and sometimes downright bizarre lyrics, though no matter how far off the deep end, they were all packed with originality and remarkably vivid descriptors. In fact, those thematic threads were yet another piece of the Dolls' highly decorated garment that truly makes members stand in a complete class of their own. Even after seven years together, Palmer and Viglione continue to deliver completely unconventional storylines and an overall attack on the senses, likely to get stronger (and stranger) every step of the way.