Friday Night: The Dresden Dolls at Warehouse Live

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Be sure to check out our photos of the Dresden Dolls Brigade...

The Dresden Dolls, with Smoosh May 30, 2008 Warehouse Live

Better Than: What could be better than a costume party with killer live music? It’s like Halloween in May—complete with chocolate (keep reading).

Download: Videos, concert clips, and other miscellanies at the Dolls’ official YouTube channel.

How to describe Friday’s performance by The Dresden Dolls? The evening was equal parts spooky, friendly, campy, and—believe it or not—generous.

Pianist/frontwoman Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, each adorned with black patent leather masks, military jackets and riding crops, entered to the tune of “The Imperial Theme” from Star Wars. The dramatic arrival was followed by a cover of “In the Flesh” by Pink Floyd, which segued into the Dolls’ original “Girl Anachronism” and “Missed Me.”

At least half of the crowd knew every word by heart; clearly most spectators were diehard fans, as evidenced by the abundance of wild wardrobe choices. Popular garb included (but was not limited to): striped tights, bowler hats, unnaturally colored hair, and makeup suggestive of Brandon Lee in The Crow. As if their fandom was not already proven tenfold, the audience also sang faithfully along to songs from No, Virginia—released a mere ten days prior to the concert.

Palmer’s deep alto voice has benefited from its recent surgery to remove vocal nodes. Gone are the strains and cracks that (charmingly) marred performances in 2007. Additionally, her piano prowess has evolved from inventive, percussive battering to a more sophisticated, controlled and improvisational style.

As the self-professed “straight man” to Palmer’s lyrics, Viglione was in fact the most animated of the duo. Standing, posing, and whipping his braided ponytail for emphasis, he added visual expression to a repertoire that already includes impressive drumming. His whitish face makeup and dark lipstick brings to mind Joel Grey as the M.C. in Cabaret.

Other highlights found Amanda wandering into the crowd during “Gardner” and manning the drum kit, with Brian on guitar and Maia (from opening band Smoosh) on bass, for a respectable rendition of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right.” Smoosh pianist/vocalist Asya and drummer Chloe also joined the Dolls for a raucous cover of “Karma Police.” (Let it be duly noted that Asya, Chloe and Maia, who are coy about providing their last names, are sisters aged 16, 14 and 11, respectively.)

And now for the chocolate. To honor the birthday of Palmer’s new assistant Beth, tour manager Eric Sussman delivered onstage a glowing chocolate cake, which, after leading the audience in singing “Happy Birthday,” the Dolls smeared first on each other and then on the crowd. Cake flew. Fans ate. And threw. Even the empty plastic tray that had held the cake ended up hurtling into the audience.

And a tasty cake it was indeed.

Be sure to check out our photos of the Dresden Dolls Brigade...

Before the concert, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Brian Viglione.

I asked him to describe the science behind the seemingly telepathic musical connection he and Amanda share onstage. He replied, “The best way I can describe it to a non-musician is…it’s like your best friend that you’ve known for so long that you can almost complete each other’s sentences.” After the two met initially, Brian recalls, “When I first looked through Amanda’s CD collection it was like, ‘Oh my gosh! That’s what I would have done! Exactly!’…We were coming from the same place.”

Regarding the Dolls’ self-description of “Brechtian punk cabaret,” Brian says the label is somewhat “outdated… That was something that Amanda sort of threw out there when we were first writing press releases.” How would he describe their music now? “Rock ‘n roll!”

I questioned whether massive popularity would be the antithesis of the intimate, cabaret motif that the band perpetuates. “No, I don’t think so,” answered Brian. “We played arena shows when we opened for Nine Inch Nails… I felt like the same person onstage.” He stressed that as long as what the band communicates remains emotionally pure, any size venue or fan following would suit the music.

With respect to the Brigade, the fans who dress up and/or perform at Dresden Dolls concerts, Brian said, “It’s not just about us, the band, and here are all these fans, and isn’t that great.” He values that a “community” has grown out of the performers, “whether they are amateur, semi-professional, or professional…they can use it as a launch point.”

Interestingly, the Brigade started as a collection of friends of the band who would perform at “rent shows at the house that Amanda was living in. There was art all around.” When the Dolls advanced to public venues, the band decided to invite the pre-show performance artists as well. The tradition continued around Boston and, eventually, nationally and internationally.

Brian also emphasized that he and Palmer are primarily a live band. “We use the studio as a tool,” he explained. I asked how much room for improvisation they allow each night. “Oh, I’d say one hundred percent!” he exclaimed.

Hence the flying cake.

Personal Bias: The costume I wore was that of a hardcore fan masquerading as a journalist.

Random Detail: Brian Viglione enjoys Mozart operas.

By the Way: Check out Brian’s collaboration with The World/Inferno Friendship Society on their upcoming tour. And, if you’re lucky enough to be in Boston this month, you can see Amanda Palmer perform with the Boston Pops. Her solo album is slated for release on September 16. – Linda Leseman

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