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The Dresden Dolls

(29 Dec 2003: Joe's Pub — New York)


Photo credit: Kelly Davidson


At first I thought Joe’s Pub was an odd venue choice for the Dresden Dolls, self-described as a “Brechtian punk cabaret” two-piece from Boston. But I soon found I was wrong.


The super trendy New York City venue, covered in plush seating and soft lighting, was surprisingly packed with a diverse group of people—young, old, sporty, gothic, punk and preppy. That speaks volumes for the wide appeal this mime-like duo have on music lovers. So right here at Joe’s Pub, the booming acoustics of the venue plus the powerfully emotive voice of lead singer Amanda Palmer equaled nothing less than a dramatic and astounding performance that left most of the room clapping and hollering for more.


The Dresden Dolls’ fashion sense is as distinct as their musical style. Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione stepped on stage, outfitted all in black and white. Palmer sat behind her keyboards wearing her signature clingy black dress and black-and-white striped thigh highs held up by garters. Viglione sat behind the drums with his black hat, white button-down (untucked), black pants and tie. Their look is striking, but it is the strength of their music that substantiates their live shows.


Palmer’s booming vocals have amazing depth with the power to pull people into her twisted stories of psychotic love, hatred and pain. Her voice can easily fluctuate from guttural rants to tender confessions, and it is this skill that makes the songs so appealing. All of the emotions are multiplied during her live performance as her body squirms and shifts positions—her knee often lifts to above the keys and her legs sway open and closed. Her physical movements onstage give off both an uncomfortable and therapeutic feeling, as if she is battling her demons on stage.


Viglione’s performance is also a treat. His drum parts are precisely, emphatically timed to synch with Palmer’s keyboard parts. He uses these emphases to his advantage, often standing up and exaggerating the clashing of cymbals while his face mocks overexertion. Every once in a while he will sing background vocals. Throughout the show, his presence is light and entertaining—perfectly complementary to Palmer’s darker foil.


But of course, not everything about Palmer’s songs is dark and evil. Much of her lyrics are infused with humor and satire, and indeed I tend to favor the songs that make me smile and laugh. The highlights of the Joe’s Pub show were crowd favorites like “Coin-Operated Boy”, “Half Jack”, “Missed Me”, and “Girl Anachronism”. The group also performed a new song called “Backstabber”, which followed the same dark comedy formula of their other songs—dark and delightful. Their ability to master their songwriting skills and their wonderfully dramatic live performances will no doubt make the Dresden Dolls a cult-like must-see.

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