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December 31, 2005


Dresden Dolls are anything but fragile
by Kevin Bronson

The Dresden Dolls allowed their fans to feel more than the sensation of being spectators Thursday at the Henry Fonda Theatre.

The Boston duo's self-described "Brechtian punk cabaret" invited the thrill of voyeurism, and not merely because of Amanda Palmer's intense confessionals. In some ways those songs only served as a conduit for the electricity between the singer-pianist and drummer Brian Viglione. Even operating from opposite sides of the stage, they were together — shades up, window cracked, guard down.

At no time was the duo laid more bare than during the instrumental excursion leading into the song "Half Jack." Generating as much energy as three stages of guitar bands, Palmer and Viglione played raptly to each other, pianist and drummer matching lick for sensual lick.

The sheer power of the 90-minute set demolished any notion that the Dolls — with their vintage duds and pancake makeup and shtick appropriated from Weimar-era Berlin — might be resigned to novelty act. Palmer's furious ivory-tickling and Viglione's jazz- and metal-influenced drumming crackled with every bit of the musicality and ferocity of other celebrated two-pieces such as the Kills and the White Stripes.

As for theatricality, it's no contest — the Dolls' act is performance art with a punk soundtrack.

Fresh off recording sessions for their sophomore album (due in the spring), Palmer, in a black chemise, and Viglione, wearing a bowler and fitted shirt, offered a captivating dynamic. To Palmer's chanteuse, Viglione played mime, acting out her missives between riffs and putting a face to the songs' exposed nerves. The audience was challenged to a riveting game of visual yo-yo between the pianist's action and the drummer's reaction.

Their set provided catharsis of varying tenor. They made Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" seethe; they made Sinéad O'Connor's "Last Day of Our Acquaintance" soothe. The two most familiar songs from their 2004 debut, the nervous-breakdown-at-78-rpm "Girl Anachronism" and the deviously playful "Coin-Operated Boy," turned into singalongs.

And on the new "Delilah," Palmer strayed from her inward-looking narratives to counsel a friend, "the princess of denial." Again, the delivery carried the sense of the forbidden. Only this time, it felt like eavesdropping.