Friday, May 23, 2008

the dresden dolls @ the wiltern

..or how i learned to stop worrying and love the punk cabaret.

The Dresden Dolls and I have a strange relationship. The last time we "met" was at Newbury Comics in Boston...although I wasn't quite willing to brave the throng of well wishes for an awkward ten second conversation ("Brian...err...so where can I get a good vegan flan in these parts? Okay I love you...bye!) The time before that was a fateful 5 a.m. shoot where, despite my being covered in coffee grounds and having a near panic1 attack over said coffee explosion, Amanda offered up a big thank you hug. Up until now now I've never seen the Dolls live. Needless to say it was a big night2.

A night that, like all things Dresden Dolls, was larger than life. Maybe their caffeine-fueled punk by way of Post-War Germany should have been some sort of indication of the sort of events to come. But my delight to find a living statue, punk stilt walker, and the ubiquitous Coin Operated Boy in the lobby of the Wiltern was palpable - think over-sugared kid on Christmas day levels. Er...make that a punk rock over-sugared kid on Christmas day. Heheh...pretty people! Look at the Pretty People!

The show itself, from start to finish, had the most theatrics you can find outside of a Flaming Lips convention. Earlier we had been taking bets as to just how long each act would last before being forcibly thrown off the stage by over-zealous punk fans. Even in an age where the Internet acts as the great common denominator, it just seems weird to have a band of children open up for a band of face-paint wearing piano-pounding, mother-scaring punks3. Actually, it kinda seems weird for them to be opening for, well, anyone. That is, until you meet Smoosh and quickly realize these girls are highly capable musicans. Nothing stirs up self-loathing quite like a trio of nine-year-olds crashing though sophisticated pop-punk (an quick Internet search actually shows the family-formed band to be 11, 13, and 15 respectively.) Man, what was I doing when I was eleven? Reading, and hatching schemes to get out of gym class. Actually, that's not too far off from what I spend my days doing now.

Next up was Lavender Diamond, which, even after their breathtakingly cute preformance supporting She & Him I have to admit having certain reservations about. As one of my friends put it, "they're a band you have to be prepped on to get in on the joke." What a sad commentary to lob at a band fronted with by a mirror-wearing pixie who opens every show with "let's give a hand for world peace!" Songstress Becky Stark's opera-sized voice sounded amazing bouncing off the walls of the Wiltern, even if it was somewhat tempered by the shifting, confused and restless crowd around us. She did get a big laugh from the darkness loving crowd, when, apprapo of nothing announced "I think I'm a vampire. I don't drink blood, but I do stay up all night!"

Of course, the surprisingly rousing openers were only a taste of the drama geekery to come. Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione tromped on stage and immediately pounded out the closing number to Pink Floyd's The Wall. This only marked the beginning of their covers; later in the set they'd trot out punked-up versions of Neutral Milk Hotel's "Two Headed Boy" and (quite possibly most specular) The Beastie Boys' "You've Got To Fight For your Right (to Party)" featuring an over-zealous Amanda on drums, and complete with their own dancing entourage.

Like everything about the Dresden Dolls, their music and personae is turned up to eleven. Their already punk numbers, like the anthemic "Girl Anachronism" (of which I truly believe Amanda Palmer should be given some sort of grammar Nazi award) and the deliciously creepy "Lonesome Organist Rapes the Page Turner" take on a new frenetic quality. Their slower moments, which I'll admit I usually find myself skipping over, take on an amazing quiet intensity. During the "The Gardner," Amanda took what appeared, at least from my vantage point, to be one of the most menacing strolls through the crowd in rock history. Meanwhile, Brian balanced both guitar and drum duties. I find myself equally impressed on both accounts.

Of course, they couldn't do it without a little help from their friends, as proven with the addition of rock cellist Zoe Keating to the amazing, free form set closer "Half Jack" Normally a six-minute ode to daddy issues, it was stretched to twice its original length, punctuated by increasingly rapid strobe lights and crowd cheers. I leaned back, smiled and cheered along with the adoring crowd. Tomorrow, with its pack of worries, would come soon enough. By my watch, it was already here. But tonight? This night, life really was one big cabaret.

1. To my credit the panic attack was fulled by a similar experience on the set of my thesis film, nearly resulting in my death at the hands of several under-caffeinated would-be Spielbergs. To my detriment, I used to work as a barista.
2. Funded by my latest KCRW win.
3. I judge this solely on my mother's reaction to Robert Smith.

(photo the dresden dolls: Kyle Cassidy)
(photo lavender diamond: Autumn de Wilde)
(photo smoosh: Michelle Moore)

mp3: "My Doorbell (White Stripes cover)" by the Dresden dolls
mp3: "Rainbow Connection (Kermit The Frog cover)" by The Dresden Dolls
mp3: "Free To Stay" by Smoosh
mp3: "You Broke My Heart" by Lavender Diamond

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