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The Boston Herald - July 3, 2003

Dresden Dolls love a `Cabaret'

By Linda Laban/Music Review

The Dresden Dolls, with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, at the Middle East, Cambridge, Tuesday night.

The Dresden Dolls' final song at the Middle East on Tuesday night was revelatory. Or at least the title of it was: "Girl Anachronism." Because, though the Dolls won this year's WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble and are a buzz name in the Northeast, there's a Weimar Republic- style sophistication to the band's cabaret pop.

A hint of '80s new wave nostalgia too.

With nods to Marcel Marceau and the movie "Cabaret," as well as Adam Ant, the duo - singer and pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione - brings dress-up and drama back to rock.

Palmer favors garters and stockings, men's shirts and bustiers, mixing the decadent flair of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret" and late- '70s new wave chicks like Siouxsie Sioux. At her piano, murmuring basso or trilling alto, confessing and damning in words and tempo, she seemed part Nick Cave and part Tori Amos.

Bowler-hatted and plastered with pancake makeup, Viglione is a ringer for the Master of Ceremonies in "Cabaret." His musical role is equally expressive. A pointed drummer, he added commanding strokes, as if overemphasizing the music to a silent movie. The performance at the Middle East was just that, with songs such as opener "Missed Me" etched by big Wagnerian gestures and bad- blooded Brechtian emotions.

Two musicians then joined in, a guitarist and a bassist who switched between stand-up and electric. They fleshed out the songs, many of which are new and due for release in the fall. As the drama mounted with the wry, nursery rhyme-styled "Coin- Operated Boy" and the anxious, despairing "Glass Slipper," it was obvious that if you take away the makeup and costumes, the music stands up. "Good Days," with its slow, sweet introduction and Bolshie pop center, was particularly catchy, and the pouty, pummeling "Mrs. O" was a crowd pleaser.

The Dresden Dolls shtick is very now, very new wave revival, theatrical and daring. Boston's answer to Fischerspooner can, however, actually play live.

Ghoulish theatrical rockers Sleepytime Gorilla Museum added a violin-accented, angular prog rock set. An oddity for sure.