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New Haven Advocate - New Haven, CT
February 3, 2005

The Black Keys
Exploring the dark stuff with Boston goth duo the Dresden Dolls.
by Doron Monk Flake


Boston's Dresden Dolls sound like chipping paint and brittle porcelain. They muse for the Victrola. They film videos for Earth's largest zoetrope. They tripped the flux capacitor to a 1930s German cabaret and rocked out Marty McFly-style. Onstage, they wear antique formal wear: ball-gowns, tops and tails. Their bone-white facepaint and lipstick qualify them as gothic, although their theatrics are more Fleetwood Mac than His Infernal Majesty. The Dresden Dolls are the piano-punk duo your grandmother would have broken curfew for.

The marriage of sight and sound is seamless. "I think the reason it works is because I don't have to try," says singer-pianist Amanda Palmer, who, along with drummer Brian Viglione comprise the band. They're like a mirror image of mainstream darlings the White Stripes, but with a scalpel's edge.

"I've always been a multimedia type of person," Palmer continues. "I always had 15 projects in my head at once."

This from a Lexington, Massachussetts artist who, at age 10, wrote a musical about runaway suburban girls roughing it in the big city with fifty stolen dollars. Meanwhile, Viglione was drumming to Bon Jovi in his parents' attic in nearby Greenville. Their fated meeting at a mutual friend's Halloween party was years away, but the collaboration, when it began in 2000, has since turned more than a few heads.

"It's more than music, it's a lifestyle," says Palmer.

The band's devotees would agree. They, too, doll themselves up in pancake white foundation and frilly ancient fashions. Their forums and fan pages are feverishly devout in spreading the sonic contagion. The Dolls recently garnered airplay on MTV2 for the video "Girl Anachronism" and have performed on shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live and toured extensively, stateside and abroad. Here in Connecticut, they're climbing the ranks, moving from Rudy's to the Space to Toad's Place in just a few months.

"It's consistent with what's been happening in other places we play," says the Wesleyan graduate. "Something about our music seems to translate to people in Germany, Australia and Texas, or Salt Lake City. They can relate to it."

When we talked, the Dolls were just wrapping up recording follow-up to their self-titled 2003 studio debut album. They'll be embarking on a European tour when it's done. Where is Palmer's favorite place to play? "Boston is always great," she says. Seems the Dolls go nuts to the struts for their homecoming shows. There are photos on their website of performances in Boston where the duo plays with black tape X's over their nips, Wendy O. Williams style. You can't always wear a ballgown.

Beneath the ghostly facade, the Dolls run on angst like an SUV, burning gallons with every song. Much of Palmer's writing deals with betrayal of trust, misguided lust and accidental scars. Stitches are a common thread. "It's Freudian--I was a sloppy girl, growing up. I'm very accident-prone. Even as a kid, I always had cuts and scrapes. Just mindlessly self-destructive. After closing my hand in the car door for the fifth time in a week, you start to wonder why it keeps happening."

Along with the literal and figurative self-flagellations, Palmer sings extensively about what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Consider the song "Miss Me" from their self-titled studio debut: "If you miss me, mister, why do you keep leaving?/If you trick, me mister, I will make you suffer/And they'll get you, mister, put you in the slammer/And forget you, mister, then I think you'll miss me/Won't you miss me?"

It would seem Palmer has unresolved issues with the males of our species.

"Really? It's weird that that's what you took away from it. I love men. That song and 'Boston' and 'The Jeep Song' and all the other songs like that are about one guy," she says.

How does Viglione feel laying down beats for such man-fueled hatred? "He was there for all of it," she says. "He saw the whole relationship happen, so he knows all about it. But I spit out my man-hating venom on the first album."

The Dresden Dolls play Toad's Place on Feb. 3 at 8 p.m., with Regina Spektor and Diamond J and the Rough; DresdenDolls.com.