You see, it’s like this: I thought they would be Goths, and I was wrong. I didn’t expect to leave with a small sense of wonder and then have to struggle to put that wonder into words that don’t make me sound like a bloody Goth. It truly is a lose-lose situation. And I should have written it up bloody days ago but haven’t because I don’t know how or why or if I can.
The Dresden Dolls are singer/pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione. Despite sounding like they’ve been performing together since childhood, they formed just over four years ago. With their white painted faces, rouged cheeks and eyes, bowler hats and striped stockings, they look like the angsty ballerinas in the fictional gothic jewellery box that I never got to own as a kid. But don’t let the elaborate eyeliner fool you. Aside from a smattering in their audience, there is little of the spooky kid about them.
Part Ute Lemper, part PJ Harvey, Palmer’s voice is made for lounges and heartbreak. She doesn’t play the keyboard. She toys with it, delicately pouring herself over the keys or ferociously slamming them. She sings about angry little girls, girls who are perfectly fine without you and who don’t miss you at all, thank you very much. And she sings about girls who want robot boys to share their baths. Testify!
Viglione’s jib was cut for Broadway. He plays the outraged listener to Palmer’s frustrated storyteller perfectly. His is the corner of camp and exaggeration. And he puts up a good fight, rising to the mime before dropping back down into jazz rock frenzies and the occasional bout of slick and casual drum tapping. Together they veer from sharp jerking punk to smooth rolling cabaret love songs, watching every move the other makes. And they don’t miss a beat.
But it’s not just that. It’s the spaces, the pauses between the punchlines, that make every song feel like a showstopper, creating an atmospheric tension reminiscent of bands like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and the Tiger Lillies. Throw in simple, twisted melodies with lines like “I’d like to do more than survive, I’d like to rub it in your face” and I’m sold.
They dedicate a gut-wrenching rendition of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’
to “somebody so evil that it’s bad luck to say his name…but it rhymes with Bush.” Angry thrashing of skins, pounding of keys and roaring of vocals follow, with the audience rocking out in shared sentiment. As Berthold Brecht himself once wrote, “injustice is not anonymous - it has a name and an address.”
You tell him, Dolls.