Whatever you do, don't call the Dresden Dolls goth. Amanda Palmer, the Boston duo's singing half, so wants to avoid the G-word, she invented the phrase "Brechtian punk cabaret" to describe the Dolls' style. That label may sound pretentious, but it's an accurate summation of their minimalist, scary, campy noise collision.
This Brechtian punk-cabaret is fueled by Palmer's percussive use (bordering on abuse) of piano, and Brian Viglione's jazz- and metal-inspired drums. Token songs such as "Coin-Operated Boy" and "Backstabber" (whose video employs cunning use of a very long, sharp knife) are both chilling and humorous. No topic is sacred. Lyrics range from blunt to cryptic, suggesting scenes of sexual reassignment surgery, masturbation and drinking alone.
To complement their music's sardonic tone, Palmer and Viglione don mime-like makeup and garb that looks like it fell out of a Weimar Republic attic. Shockingly, the Dolls have acquired a rather unique cult following — call it Cirque du Soleil meets Rocky Horror Picture Show, or just the Dresden Dolls Brigade.
According to the Brigade's Web site, this traveling sideshow is an "ever-changing collection of performance artists" that accompanies each Dolls concert as preshow entertainment or is sometimes integrated into the show. Exhibitions include timeless carny specialties like stilt-walking, contortionists, fire breathers, glass walking, lightbulb eating, juggling, nail swallowing and more. However, the Brigade encourages only original ideas, because "Amanda and Brian don't want to be copied." In other words, simply dressing like either one smacks of "Dollmania" and is frowned upon.
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The Brigade's Halloweenesque freak show continues all year round. Novices can watch the Paradise DVD, which documents a 2005 pre-concert power outage, during which the sideline performers take center stage. Just don't call it goth.