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Dallas Music Guide - October 10, 2004

Dresden Dolls: Gypsy Tea Room (10/20/04)

The Dresden Dolls are a Boston duo with musical influences as thickly layered as their white face-paint: Amanda Palmer on piano and Brian Viglione on drums. I am wholly ignorant of the diverse and historical sources from which The Dresden Dolls derive their unique musical vision. Being a poor student of history, most twentieth century events preceding hippies and Elvis get jumbled up into one decade, sometimes one year, so that I imagine Eli Whitney, Albert Einstein, and George Washington Carver working on some sordid experiment involving an atomic cotton peanut. I recognize that there was something called Vaudeville, that there were once cabarets, and that the lines between theatrical and musical performance were used to be blurred more than they are now. Upon first glimpse, The Dresden Dolls look and feel like this lost portion of history, most likely revolving around that vacuum of time between the two world wars. Amanda and Brian both take the stage in white stage make-up, she donning black and white striped stockings and he a derby hat. The constricted and dimly lit Gypsy Tea Room is a perfect venue for this event, so well does it accent the intimate faux-history of the evening.

If all introductions were to stop there, The Dresden Dolls might be taken merely as an adorable novelty, not unlike some stuttering music box you find in a grandparents’ attic. However, it takes a mere second’s experience of their music to inform you otherwise. The Dresden dolls are, in a very mild sense, doing a bit of acting nostalgic, but they do so with a style that avoids simple parody. What The Dresden Dolls do must not be understated. They have very obviously drawn from sources predating modern rock and roll, and yet so liberally do they infuse rock and roll’s violent abandon and ferocity into those same sources, so that you have a musical creation that is, more or less, absolutely unprecedented. The distinction may be at least partially visual, but I think few would argue against The Dresden Dolls’ comparative originality when stacked up against our day’s tepid musical setting.

On this particular night, The Dresden Dolls were absolutely bursting with energy, so much so that neither one of them could hardly keep their seat. The average human has ten fingers. Amanda Palmer must have roughly forty with the way she took it to her keyboard. I’m hoping that one day The Dolls will have the notoriety – and roadies – necessary to drag around a full grand piano. Throughout the evening, Amanda’s keys and her flinty howl never lost an ounce of their pervasive force. The crowded walls of the Tea Room were bursting with both. Yet Mr. Viglione was not a passive element in this arresting spectacle. I had thought, prior to the evening’s events, that it would most likely be “The Amanda Palmer Show,” since she is undoubtedly the most salient quality of the record. However, this particular night belonged to the drumming virtuoso that is Brian Viglione. Beyond the blatant irony of a guy dressed like a mime playing the loudest thing in the room, Brian quite simply astounded me. I am bereft of aural descriptors for the way he plays. It’s violent and precise and it damn near obliterates your senses.

On the whole, The Dresden Dolls put on a fantastic show. There was a little silent, mime-like banter between Brian and Amanda, usually one-sided, and the two moved about the stage with striking confidence. The Dolls also played three covers and are probably the only rock band this year, or maybe this century, that will play a song by Kurt Weill. I had thought this evening would belong to “Girl Anachronism:” The Dresden Dolls’ debut single that traverses the length of Webster’s Dictionary and is, in my opinion, the best single so far this year. “Girl Anachronism” was good, but hardly the evening’s highlight. During the show, I had been wondering if The Dolls’ musical inspiration was limited only to the most obscure sources, most of which would not be considered rock and roll. I began to wonder if they didn’t have the same childish appreciation for heavy metal that I did. Eerily, as I pondered this, The Dresden Dolls pounded out the first few bars of a familiar tune, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. Then, it wound down momentarily to only Viglione’s hi-hat. “This isn’t,” I said out loud, “’War Pigs’ is it?” It was. The Dresden Dolls were covering Black fucking Sabbath. What followed cannot be described in words. I only know that Viglione moved with frightening precision from that moment forward, tearing down Bill Ward’s kingdom and setting up a bigger one. I only know this: any individual who has not seen The Dresden Dolls cover Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is living half a life.

The evening wound down with an encore of “Truce” and the most annoying girl in the world getting thrown out, as if the Tea Room staff were reading my mind.

 ~ Dick Sullivan