The Miami Herald
March 4, 2005
The Dresden Dolls want to play dress up
by CARYN BROOKS
Ask Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, a.k.a. The Dresden Dolls, if they believe in fate and their mouths break out into big, gooey smiles that threaten to consume both faces whole.
"Oh, yeah!" Amanda exclaims. "Uh-huh!" Brian exclaims. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," their eyes exclaim in unison.
You'd think these two were storefront palm readers rather than America's foremost (and perhaps only) purveyors of Brechtian Punk Cabaret, a mad dash of clanging piano, crashing drums and literary melodrama. But you can understand their homage to synchronicity as soon as they unveil the story of how The Dresden Dolls came to be.
The year was 2001. Amanda was a Boston boho with a penchant for piano and performance. To bring in extra cash, she'd dress up as a statue in public squares and gather donations.
Brian was newish to town. He was playing in a band, getting settled, and on Halloween night a buddy took him to a party at a loft. Amanda's loft. She was playing her music and he was hooked. But how to hook her?
There's a sense of peace that crosses Brian's face as he tells the story in a Manhattan tearoom. He's lying across Amanda's lap as if it were a baptismal pool. She's looking down at him like he's the father, son and the holy ghost.
"I had to be strategic," he says. See, other guys at this party wanted to play music with Amanda. They courted her. "I hung back on purpose," Brian says. These other guys were drunk and Brian let them talk themselves out.
When the moment was right, he approached and offered his services as a drummer. He made a date with Amanda and quickly faded again into the background. The evening of the rendezvous, Brian made a tofu dish and waited for Amanda to come over. And waited. And waited.
"I started to panic," he says. He jumped on his skateboard and rode to her house. Just as he arrived, she got out of a car. She had forgotten about the whole thing, but Brian wasn't offended. "I was just so relieved there she was," Brian says.
From the first moment that they played music together, Brian would never again be Cute Boy #4 From Party.
"I think fate dragged Brian over to my house that night, for sure," Amanda says. "We couldn't have met at a better time in our lives. It's amazing."
The twosome found that Brian could perfectly punctuate Amanda's roiling songs with a sensitivity that turned each performance into an unveiling of a whole new work. They started out playing at arts events rather than bars, and the band's hallmark became their deliciously magnetic freestyling and the dark comedy of their lyrics.
One night they performed at a burlesque event and decided to dress up for the occasion. He powdered his face and wore a bowler while she clapped on mime makeup and strapped on striped leggings and garters. They looked like survivors from a silent movie version of "A Clockwork Orange," which is to say that they looked interesting, very interesting.
Their signature costumes were born. Once they started dressing up at shows, their blooming fan base started dressing up, too.
"We invite the audience to enliven and enrich the theatrical element of the show," Amanda says. Brian adds, "One of the gains of having the audience participate is that you don't just increase the amount of spectacle to behold, you increase the feeling that it's a real collaborative effort. It unifies the audience with the band and the audience with each other."
Fate may have brought The Dresden Dolls together, but it's passion and talent that keeps them alive and prospering. The band released a record on Amanda's own label in 2003 and it sold well without any official promotion. That same year, The Dresden Dolls nabbed Boston's version of a battle of the bands, a prestigious honor that usually goes to a group with at least one guitar player.
They toured the world, picking up an active fan brigade that likes to participate at a high level on the group's online message board. Now they've signed to the well-established Roadrunner Records, increasing their exposure and helping them get play on alternative rock radio.
The Dresden Dolls' near future includes recording a second album, touring the major festival circuit and enticing you to break out that post-apocalyptic flower girl/boy outfit you've been dying to wear. Are you ready?