Unfamiliar with the visceral joys of ‘Brechtian punk cabaret’? Well, you won’t be for long. Camilla Pia embraces the drama of THE DRESDEN DOLLS.
s most stalwarts of the gig-going scene
will testify. regularly tttindling off to see
guitar-touting boys whose idea of a performance is shaking unkempt locks and shuffling around the stage can become a little monotonous after a while. That is why bands like the Dresden Dolls are so very important. As well as offering infectious primal pop banged out by thundering piano and drums. the Boston- based outfit also cater in spectacular costumes. dramatic face-paint and performance art. It’s a ‘Brechtian punk cabaret‘. as they would have us call it. and I asked the band exactly what they mean by this self-dubbed genre.
‘When we first started playing music together we had no plans about what we were going to do.‘ says Amanda Palmer. vocalist. pianist and possessor of a low. husky drawl and extremely dry wit. ‘I had most of the songs already written. Brian (Viglione. drums. guitar) added his thing on top and. unsure about what to call it. we decided on the punk cabaret theme with a nod to Brecht as we wanted to catch people's attention as well as explain what it sounded like.‘
Meeting in a loft party on Halloween night of
2()()() couldn't have been more appropriate beginnings for this dark and intense duo‘s creations. and it happened at just the right time for both of them. ‘Brian was playing bass in a local rock band and was unhappy and trying to get out of it so that he could drum again.‘ says Palmer. ‘And I was doing street performance as a living statue with the occasional solo piano show but ready to buckle down and start working on a hand. So it was like a match made in heaven. Things couldn't have been scripted better. we just spoke the same musical language.‘
Growing up on a diverse artistic diet of pop. goth. performance art and theatre clearly influenced this pop parlance. and it is no surprise to hear that the genre-bending vocalist had early obsessions with the Legendary Pink Dots. the Cure. the Doors and Nick Cave. ‘Iirom the time I could walk I have wanted to do this.’ she explains. ‘After my initial love of pop culture I became interested in strange esoteric music and in my late teens became turned on by people like Philip Glass. It was like everywhere I turned I picked something up. My interests were very wide and varied but most of all I was interested in the crossover between music and theatre. My favourite movie used to be The Wall. because it was my ultimate fantasy to combine music and film. I wrote and directed a lot of plays
‘IF YOU LOOK THOUSANDS OF YEARS BACK IN HISTORY, COSTUMES AND MAKE- UP HAVE ALWAYS BEEN THERE'
throughout high school but fundamentally I knew that if I got my way I could focus on music and
I‘m really glad it tumed out this way. At the age of
l l. I wanted to be (‘yndi I.auper and I guess I‘ve managed a vague approximation.‘ she laughs. Years of rehearsing and performing in the
Boston artists‘ collective have also made their
mark. as the Dresden Dolls’ current ethos owes as much to atts communities as it does the rock world. (‘atch one of the band‘s mesmerising live displays and you’ll soon see that this is no ordinary show. As well as actively encouraging their fans to dress tip ‘like freaks‘. the pair have created an element called ‘the Brigade‘ which is
an open invitation to people from all walks of
life to perform on the night. with some very colourful results. ‘It's been really cool.‘ says Palmer. 'because the crowd love it and we have been lucky enough to meet some of the most talented. talentless and downright crazy people.
and watch them put on incredible. terrible or
really weird stuff. and it just works beautif‘ully.‘
So are there any offerings that patticularly stick in the mind'.’ 'Well. there was this amazing actress from France who powdered her entire body and caine up with a stationary dance to "Half Jack" which involved sign language. She is one of the best that we‘ve seen and she may even be touring with us at some point in the future. There have also been some great human marionettes. skits and sketches. and it‘s just so inspiring to see people really wanting to bring the idea of the cabaret to life and do more than just watch a band on stage. These kids take over the space and do something interesting with it and although it is an experiment which sometimes fails. painfully. it's important to try.’
Yet with all this talk of performance art mixed with pop. does Palmer ever worry that people will tag the band as pretentious and write them off as a result‘.’ ‘We do get called overly arty quite a lot.‘ she chuckles. ‘but what really saves us is our live show. When we play we beat the shit out of our instruments and our sound is really tight. and I think if we didn‘t do that we may get criticism but once you've seen us live it‘s obvious that we could put on a great rock show. with or without costumes and make-up.
‘In fact. we convert a lot of people after they‘ve seen us play.‘ she adds. ‘We got the worst record review in the band‘s history from this Australian journalist at year ago so the label invited him to our show and afterwards he was so impressed that he wrote its an apology and a glowing live review in the next edition of the paper.
Talking of which. the Dresden Dolls have already written the follow-up to 2003‘s self—titled debut and plan to record it this autumn with a view to releasing it in the spring of next year. but not before they‘ve road-tested its tracks on some of the band‘s British devotees.
The Exchange, 228 2141, 24 Aug, 8pm, £1 1 .
Kenny Mathieson reports from the deep and murky world of jazz adventurers
If you want to be captured for posterity in your best clapping and cheering mode. get down to Henry's for these two gigs from the excellent Trio AAB. The band will use these Fringe gigs to record their next CD. as drummer Tom Bancroft explains.
‘Calum Malcolm will be making the recording for us. The plan is to do some of the material from our earlier albums. because that has changed a lot as we have played it live. and these versions are often quite different from the originals. We'll also be recording some stuff we play live but isn't on the records. and maybe a couple of new tunes as well.‘
With Caber Music now inactive in terms of issuing new recordings. the band have not yet finalised plans for releasing the resulting disc. Their last studio album. Strange Things Happen at C. featured flautist Brian Finnegan of Flook as a guest musician. but this one will be the regular trio of Tom on drums. brother Phil Bancroft on saxophone. and guitarist Kevin MacKenzie.
All three musicians have been involved in significant individual projects in the past couple of years. Both Phil and Kevin released CDs and toured with their own groups. while Tom toured the UK with American pianist Geri Allen and his excellent big band last autumn.
'We've all been busy but Trio AAB has been a constant through that. We've done quite a lot of gigs in Europe. mostly at festivals. and the odd one-off gig at places like the Bimhaus in Amsterdam. We've been to France a few times, Holland. Bulgaria. and we've been doing London and various other places down scuth. It's been good playing to new audiences. and it‘s been going down really well. We've played a lot. and we feel the band is getting better and better for it.
'There are aspects of what we do in terms of our personalities that has deepened. I think. and that is reflected in the way we play some of the older material now. We have been doing material with a grungier. rockier feel recently. but we've also really been getting into playing swing as well. The basic thing is that we have three strong musical personalities on stage that can have a conversation and really develop things.‘
I Henry Jazz Cellar, 467 5200. 20 8. 27 Aug, 8.30pm. £8; 21 Aug. 8.30pm, E 7.
l l 111') Aug; L’t)(l:'> THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE 51