Sunday, November 05, 2006

the dresden dolls @ the roundhouse (3rd Nov)

I adore The Dresden Dolls. Finding The Dresden Dolls was like finding my green winter coat or my pinstripe trainers – they were made specifically for me.

Now I would never attempt to argue that they are the greatest band in the world, but The Dresden Dolls would be the band I would pick to play at my fantasy birthday party (after party provided by The Beastie Boys). They are THE MAIN EVENT. Seeing The Dresden Dolls is not just going to a gig – it is an occasion, a performance, an event. I’m just relieved they weren’t around when I was 15, as I might have stopped with music then and there because they would have given me everything I had ever wanted from a band at that age. Now they just please me immensely, after dragging me through the musical mill for a few hours. Glorious.

Friday was the second time I had seen The Dresden Dolls this year and once again, they were perfect. Their gigs are designed for me: you need never feel bored with stereo-system indie music with The Dresden Dolls. Warm-up acts included mock-vaudeville gothic cabaret, a thrash metal puppeteer with accompanying puppet band, nude painting (provided by brave members of the audience) accompanied by Australian emo, political dance (Zen Zen Zo are fantabulously amazing), crazy New York comedy-rock and a 'transsexual' burlesque striptease from Margaret Cho, all brilliantly scattered throughout the (obviously) circular auditorium of The Roundhouse. During the show we were treated to trapeze artists, cabaret and backing singers dragged from the crowd. Amongst the audience were people on stilts with gas-masks, a spooky Japanese cosplay-style geisha delivering chupa-chups, a jester or two, day-glo jugglers with scary plastic masks and the usual hard-core crowd of (usually exceptionally attractive) girls in Amanda-style black and white striped suspenders and breast-squishing corsets. Despite the frock-coat, I still felt pretty underdressed – but hey, I wore the frock coat to work – visible underwear doesn’t really work in my office.

So, onto The Dresden Dolls. It’s probably best to get this puerile comment out of the way early but…phwoar. Either or both, I'm not fussed - Brian and Amanda are two of the most charismatic, finger-licking good musicians I have ever feasted my eyes on. She in her Who t-shirt, black frilly pants and the aforementioned suspenders, red bob in dishevelled forties-style clips, he in his black trousers and bowler hat, thrashing at those drums like Animal off The Muppet Show – I do love drummers – all that hair flicking and bare-chested flailing of arms, plus Brian can SING: let's not forget, Amanda's amazing, but the rest is alllll Brian. But either way, The Dresden Dolls are mesmerising before they even make a sound.

And then the music.

I could indulge and give you a blow-by-blow account of their entire back catalogue, but I’ll try to stick to Friday’s set. This list may be a bit wrong as it’s pilfered from here, which is actually Saturday’s show (but if I had someone to go with last night I would have done it all again in a heartbeat.)

Sex Changes
Nasty nasty nasty gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Missed Me
Smoky Weimar-cabaret with a hint of Hammer Horror, creepy, hissing, purring vocals, the sound of a prison door squeaking shut, culminating in a furious roar….serves you right for kissing little girls.

Trapeze artist in tow and charleston girls – a clattering beauty.

Modern Moonlight
(I am sure this came later in Friday’s set, but ho-hum)

A fabulous rallying cry to unplug yourself and join the heart-to-heart communication revolution, kicking all those icky corporations in the arse on your way down. Urgent, baroque and brutal, soaring to an anthemic climax with a fabulous closing couplet 'when the war is over / you can read the papers'.

Mrs O
One of the smartest, most pessimistic songs from The Dresden Dolls, which has the guts to rhyme Holocaust with Santa Claus. Lots of people have read this tragic comedy as a plea to preserve the innocent, but I’ve always heard it as an uncompromising order to open your eyes to the fact that, yes, it really is this bad.

So melodic even my mum likes this, despite the fact it’s got rude words in it. Also features killerlyric #156: ‘Don’t tell me not to reference my songs within my songs’.

Coin-Operated Boy
Music-box innocence meets luscious perversion. Brian’s comic timing on the drumming, the broken-record mock repetition with DIY sound effects, a lush rippling middle eight and a tantrum-fuelled lead into the chorus. I’ll take one, maybe two, deluxe Brian models please.

Two-Headed Boy (Neutral Milk Hotel cover)
Before the gig, minifig and I were enjoying a smoke on the Roundhouse terrace when he mentioned this great little band he’d been listening to called Neutral Milk Hotel. Great. I rolled my eyes: more white-boy emo to contend with. And then The Dresden Dolls covered them that night and now I have the album. What a tart.

Mandy Goes to Med School (this was later too)
A shoobedoop cabaret song about back-alley abortions. Brave and bitter, the song was accompanied by two gothic girls in brown smocks with round bellies throwing dismembered baby parts from their stomachs throughout the finale – and in the context of the scarily ever-growing support for so-called ‘pro-life’ campaigns, only too relevant. Shocking for all the right reasons and arguably the archetypal Dresden Dolls song.

I find it incredibly difficult to listen to this song on the album, because it genuinely scares me. I think it’s about the corruption of age, but the metaphor chosen by Amanda poses far more questions than it answers.

The Jeep Song
Yes, it’s true. They played The Jeep Song with folks grabbed from the audience to fill in the ‘Ba-ba-ba’ backing bits. The histrionic showtime opener, transforming into a retro-shoo-bop pop song beautifully pastiches early girl-group heartbreak tales, whilst also maintaining its credibility as a genuinely sad song about the spectre of ‘the ex’. I danced my heart out.
On any other album, this would be the stand-out track. On The Dresden Dolls's eponymous album, it’s a jokey aside.

Dirty Business
(again, this definitely came before TJS when we saw them)
I’m so tempted to stipulate that this is played at my funeral, but I’m disappointedly un-fucked up these days and nowhere near as cool as the song’s narrator – although I do kind of have a tattooed back. An absolutely virtuoso piano performance drives this song and it’s probably my favourite boogy-tune on Yes Virginia.

I spilt my eyes when they played this. The song treads a finely tuned line between lullaby and sermon, and the carefully concealed anger and frustration in the stripped back first verse is devastating. I have my own Delilah, and never has anybody so perfectly condensed what I want to say to her than when Amanda screams lovingly – You're an unrescuable schizo, Or else you're on the rag, 'Cause if you take him back, I'm gonna lose my nerve......I never met a more impossible girl.

My Alcoholic Friends
Upbeat piano conga meets the-morning-after-guilt. If somebody could tune into the sound the universe makes when you tumble off a bar-stool, it would sound like this.

Bad Habit
Last night, a friend’s boyfriend asked me if I’d been to any gigs lately. The mention of The Dresden Dolls widened his eyes. ‘Aren’t they, like, really sick? My friend played me this one song by them and it was all about self-harm and blood and stuff. They’re really messed up’. I laughed and shook my head ‘Nah, they’re really sweet. I adore them’. He looked at me like I’d just told him I’d murdered his girlfriend.

Superficially this is a pretty standard emo ballad, and if Death Cab by Cutie had written the lyrics and it was whined over by Bright Eyes it would be so far, so good, so dull. But instead, Sing is a poignant, defiant anthem for sentimental misfits everywhere, and includes one of the most affecting, moving and delicate deliveries of the word ‘fuck’ in musical history.

Mein Herr
Dressed in expensive cantilevered lingerie, Amanda takes Brian in hand to salute Joe Masteroff and Bob Fosse. Rip-roaringly good, their performance made me yearn for simple black chairs, bowler hats, suspenders and Christine Keeler-style straddling.

Mad World
Australian support from The Red Paintings joined Amanda and Brian onstage for a cover of Gary Jules’ s cover of Tears for Fears’s Mad World. I hated this song when it became Christmas-number-one popular but this performance has almost redeemed it. And it’s hardly shocking that when you mention Donnie Darko to a room of Dresden Dolls fans everybody does their best goth-whoop, whatever that might be.

Half Jack
Devastating. minifig thinks this is about hating your father…but there’s obviously a heavy dose of transgender confusion here. Whatever it’s about, neither of those things really affects me, and yet Amanda’s voice draws out every little thing I hate about myself like a cat unravelling yarn and leaves me feeling deliciously broken.

Girl Anachronism
Makes being sectioned sound loads more fun than it really is. Demonic piano that sounds like it's been thrown down a flight of stairs in an old New York brownstone, nasty staccato vocals and crashing drums build to a maniacal climax with a show-stopping series of drum-rolls and aggressive piano chords.


Damn I can’t wait to see them again. Just writing about them I get this little dull ache in the pit of my stomach and a tightening in the back of my throat: I’m going to miss them terribly until the next time.

Maybe I’ll make myself a t-shirt for all subsequent gigs to read ‘I’d rather be watching The Dresden Dolls’ – in most cases, even at exceptional gigs, it would probably be true.

Go here for proof of their genius or read musings from Amanda here - your musical fulfillment depends on it.


At 05 November, 2006 23:46 , Blogger minifig said...

Well, you have a tattoo on your back.

It really was a great gig.

At 17 November, 2006 15:57 , Anonymous Khufu said...

They also played The Lonesome Oraganist (Jap. bonus track, also apparently to be UK B-Side for Backstabber)

Fucking awesome weekend, glad you enjoyed it too!

Khufu!x (aka day-glo juggler with scary mask)

At 17 November, 2006 21:31 , Blogger darling vicarage said...

hello khufu - I am so chuffed you left a comment - and you're absolutely right, how slack of me. I actually stood and watched you juggle - very impressive, and you were one of the many people who gave that gig a touch of the extraordinary - thank you.

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