Few bands in recent
memory have been as successful at creating new, dark and alien
worlds on album or in concert as the Dresden Dolls, who conjure an
unholy combination of a decadent Weimar Republic cabaret, a
punk-rock club and an opium den.
"It's funny that
people say our show is theatrical, because we just play our
instruments as directly and as passionately as possible and
everything else sort of falls into place," says singer, songwriter
and pianist Amanda Palmer.
stage set, dancing girls or actual theatrics; it's just [drummer]
Brian [Viglione] and I pounding the s--- out of our instruments and
really putting ourselves into the songs. There's nothing more
theatrical than performers who really like to sing into their mikes
and do it old-school rock 'n' roll style."
But if the
flamboyantly attired and made-up Dresden Dolls aren't themselves
acting out their gothic melodramas, that doesn't mean the fans
aren't elsewhere in the club, turning the venue into a bacchanal or
a torture chamber.
"We rely on our
audience to make the club look interesting, whether they're actively
coming in and helping us set up or just lighting it up with their
presence. We really try to encourage them to treat the club like a
place of complete madness and freedom. The cabaret side of the band
is not about the band, it's about the place and the people: You're
not supposed to just come in, sit down and watch the stage."
strangest spectacle the band's music has inspired?
"Oh, my God,
there are so many," Palmer says, laughing. "There's a great girl in
California who showed up to a bunch of our West Coast shows, and she
does this great thing with her makeup where she puts latex over her
lips and puts eyelets along her upper and lower lip and sews her
mouth shut. It looks fantastic! That's a memorable one. We have seen
some really beautiful and crazy stuff."
Palmer, 29 and a
mesmerizing vocalist, formed the Dresden Dolls with Viglione, a
drummer of considerable sensitivity and power, in Boston in 2001.
They made their recorded debut with the live set "A Is for Accident"
in 2003, and followed with a self-titled studio album in 2004. But
the new "Yes, Virginia..." is their most impressive offering to
date, rife with indelible melodies, dramatic arrangements and
exquisitely witty and literary lyrics expertly recorded by Sean
Slade and Paul Kolderie, the alt-rock veterans whose resume includes
Hole and Radiohead.
wanted to make a live record in the studio," Palmer says. "We'd been
touring so much, and the band was really, really tight, and we
wanted to make this record a clean, true and raw representation of
what we do onstage.
"I didn't go out
shopping for producers. Sean found us a couple of years ago and
invited us into the studio to do some pro-bono work, because we were
really poor. I just liked him, trusted him and never looked back. I
said, 'Any kind of relationship like this can grow.' I had faith in
the fact that he got the band and would be able to do it, and he
with an impressive 30-page booklet containing artwork submitted by
fans, "Yes, Virginia ..." is as much of an otherworldly experience
as the group's live shows, whether Palmer is singing about someone
on the verge of administering an unwanted sex-change operation ("No
second thoughts, the knife is nearing/You'll never hear the little
pitter patter of this little feat of engineering") or an
alcoholic crawling back from a blackout ("I'm trying hard not to
be ashamed/Not to know the name/Of who is waking up beside me/Or the
date, the season or the city/At least the ceiling's very pretty").
Many fans and
critics assume that such hard-hitting songs must be
autobiographical, but that underestimates Palmer's talents as a
writer. She bristles a bit when I broach the subject, though I note
that I'm on her side: After all, Edgar Allan Poe didn't have to
commit murder in order to portray the nefarious deed with vivid
"Maybe he did --
in his head," Palmer says, laughing once again. "I think it's a
beautiful luxury of being a writer: to confabulate. At the same
time, a songwriter has a particularly nasty lot in life, because
anything he writes that sounds possibly confessional is immediately
going to turn into fodder for questions of whether or not it's
autobiographical, and that doesn't happen to writers in other media.
can only really write what you know and what you feel. So in that
sense, every single song -- everything you write -- is going to be
about you, even if it's complete fiction. It's your take on that
fictional story. I think it's a fun game for me to say, 'I can write
whatever I want and people can believe whatever they want to
believe.' If it sounds honest, it probably is. Sometimes, you can
sound incredibly honest, and the fact that you're making up the
details actually adds to the credibility."
Yes, yes -- I
was burned only recently by expecting too much from one of my
classic-rock heroes when I got my hopes up about the Queen reunion
tour and was rewarded with Paul Rodgers out-parodying Spinal Tap.
And there's no denying that David Gilmour's new solo album, "On An
Island," is a disappointing snoozefest.
I'm stoked about the veteran Pink Floyd guitarist's two sold-out
shows Wednesday and Thursday at the Rosemont Theatre.
For one thing,
Gilmour's performance last year at Live 8 and his 2002 DVD "David
Gilmour in Concert" found him in top form as a vocalist and a guitar
god. For another, he's touring with a top-notch band that includes
Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright and Roxy Music guitarist Phil
Manzanera. Then there's the fact that Gilmour has long been the most
people-pleasing member of a notoriously difficult band. But most of
all, there are the set lists as the tour rounds the globe.
first half of the evening consists of the new solo album in its
entirety. (Come late and beat the crowd in the parking lots.) But
after a break, Gilmour returns and really delivers the goods: "Shine
On You Crazy Diamond," "Wots ... Uh the Deal" (a rare nugget from
"Obscured by Clouds"), Syd Barrett's "Dominoes" or "Fat Old Sun"
(he's been alternating the two), "Breathe," "Time" and a 20-minute
version of "Echoes." Then there are the encores: "Wish You Were
Here" and "Comfortably Numb."
Whoo-hoo! If you
ask me, that's better than a flying pig any day.