The Dresden Dolls have made a name for themselves in the Northeast with what they call their “Brechtian punk cabaret.” This is one case where a band’s self-description actually corresponds to the truth.
Singer Amanda Palmer looks like Sally Bowles’ troubled younger sister, dressed in a black dress, garters and fishnet stockings, her hair piled up like she just got out of bed. Her voice is an astringent howl; she’s the kind of woman who can sing “God it’s been a lovely day/everything is going my way” and make it sound like a threat. Across the stage, her partner, Brian Viglione, in whiteface and a bowler hat, effects a Chaplinesque look behind the drums, hitting the cymbals with exaggerated, mechanical movements.
Their own songs (mostly drawn from their self-titled debut on 8ft. Records) examine sex through gnashed teeth. The results are mixed; in the rhythmically asymmetrical “Missed Me,” attraction never comes to a good end, and Palmer is willing to pay for perfect, if dispassionate love in the witty “Coin-Operated Boy.” But “The First Orgasm,” with a refrain that celebrates the “first orgasm of the morning” with “they’ll be no second coming today,” is too cute for its own good.
They fared better with their choice of covers. As may be expected, they revel in the implicit perversity of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” But the real revelation was Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” The song’s apocalyptic wail is a perfect fit for Palmer’s voice, and it gives Viglione a chance to really pound away on the drums.
The band’s performance-art roots came through strongly in the between set activities. Friends and crewmembers walked through the sold out club in costume: skeleton, dancing ape, a mad clown who konked members of the aud on the head with a mallet. A sepulchral doll, deathly white, her rouged mouth sewn shut, danced on a platform like a macabre go-go dancer.
The opening acts were chosen for their retro appeal. The Ditty Bops engaged the crowd with their skewed ragtime folk, coming off as lethargic acid casualties.