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Monday, July 22, 2024

The Scene: The Dresden Dolls Grow Up

When I was a child, there was a commercial for Lipton Ice Tea, featuring a man falling backwards into a swimming pool holding a cold can. Was it a metaphor for summer crowd surfing? I wonder.

Heard: The Dresden Dolls

The Dresden Dolls recently graced the stage at The 9:30 Club, our local church of rock’n’roll. Formed in 2000, the group is a duo composed of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione. Palmer is an author, dramatist and punk performer, known for her dark, gothic ethos. Viglione is a dynamic drummer and multi-instrumentalist as well as an invertent clown.

Faces painted white, Palmer and Viglione performed what can only be characterized as punk-cabaret, inspired by Weimar Germany and the music of Kurt Weill, who composed the Threepenny Opera. Viglione is flamboyant. Gesticulating and miming, he batters the skins. Palmer is his equal. Dressed in spangled bra and leathers, she pounds the keys of her electronic keyboard, shifting from breathy croons to demonish screams.

“Girl Anachronism” sums up their ethos:

You can tellFrom the scars on my armsAnd the cracks in my hipsAnd the dents in my carAnd the blisters on my lipsThat I’m not the carefullest of girls

The duo have produced three solid albums and a live recording. They are now touring after a decade-long hiatus, during which Palmer pursued her solo career and Viglione spent time with the Violent Femmes.

The two began with tried-and-true fan favorites: “Good Day,” “Sex Changes,” My Alcoholic Friends,” “Backstabber” and Missed Me.” Then, they took a cover tour playing “Welcome to the Internet,” “Pirate Jenny” and “War Pigs.”

After returning to fan faavs with “Modern Moonlight” and “Girl Anachronism,” the duo announced to the crowd that they intended to workshop several songs for a new album. Palmer appeared to struggle with the new material.

This is understandable. Palmer naturally channels irony, sarcasm, anger and rage. Her co-performer is a perfect foil for her powerfully physical performance, beating his drums, miming with a vaudevillian vibe.

Here is the rub.

What does a middle-aged goth punk icon have to say after having a child, getting divorced and living through the isolation of the pandemic?

Palmer answered with two bitter ballads about the hard lessons learned from failed romances. “Whakanewha” and “The Runner” took the Dolls in a new direction. In the first, Palmer plumbed the depths of the bitterness of failed love.

Another forest metaphor
You’ve heard a million before
The trees know everything, I tried a wedding ring
But you just cringed and said, “What for?”
And now the whole thing’s turned to ash
You try to cover it with cash
Another falling tree no one can hear but me
Another suicidal mass
Landing on my doorstep, thanks a ton
Oh, darling, how can I repay you for what you have done?

In “The Runner,” Palmer took a different tack. The song narrates a series of paramours chosen for their ambition or characteristics –a runner and a writer. Then it sadly concludes that the one abandoned due to lack his of ambition was in fact the most talented at loving. It is a deeply personal statement about the pathos of romance.

Perhaps, Palmer will stride the path pioneered by Nick Cave and David Bowie, reinventing her ethos with these new ballads.

In Coming: The Hold Steady

Given the sad state of the world, I am ready for a Positive Jam. Luckly, The Hold Steady arrive tonight for a three-night stand. Led by Craig Finn, this Brooklyn-based indie band hails originally from Minneapolis.

The band’s primary writer, Finn, writes dense stanzas, often narrating the bleak lives of down and out Midwesterners. His compositions remind one of The Boss’s early albums or Dylan’s lyricism. Here is an an example from a personal favorite, “The Chillout Tent.”

There was a stage and a pier up in western Massachusetts,
And the kids came from miles around to get messed up on the music.
And she drove down from Bowdoin with a carload of girlfriends,
To meet some boys and maybe eat some mushrooms
And they did and she got sick
And now she’s pinned and way too shaky.
She don’t wanna tell the doctor everything she’s taken
The paramedics hovered over her like a somber mourning family
They gave her activating charcoal, they flooded her with saline

Visually an everyman, one would likely miss Finn in a crowd. Stepping behind the mic, wildly gesticulating, leaning over the audience, he morphs into a dynamic, charismatic presence, veering from spoken word to delivering powerful anthems.

While the Atlantis show has sold out, Hold Steady tickets are available for the two subsequent nights at the 9:30 Club.

A Look Ahead

I first encountered Buffalo Nichols when he opened for the Drive-By-Truckers. A superb guitarist, Nichols is actively reinventing the blues. Catch Nichols at Jammin Java on June 21.

Released in 2016, days after David Bowie’s death, Blackstar, was his 25th album and masterpiece in its own right. The National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Grammy–winner Jules Buckley, with assistance from the album’s collaborators Gail Ann Dorsey, drummer Nate Wood, vocalist David Poe and special guest John Cameron Mitchell, performs The Blackstar Symphony: The Music of David Bowie for two nights at the Kennedy Center.

Andrew Lightman is an avid live music fan and audiophile. He can be found at andew@hillrag.com.

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