Dresden Dolls achieve nirvana at The Paradise

I’ll start by saying that the Saturday night Dresden Dolls show at the Paradise Rock Club was one of the best nights of my life.

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Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione AKA The Dresden Dolls at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA 11.4.17 Photo by Aimsel Ponti

So yes, this is my  review of The Dresden Dolls show in Boston on November 4, 2017.

The story however begins back in February of 2005 because that was the first time I saw The Dresden Dolls live. It was at the tiny Space Gallery in Portland, Maine.  The entire show, professionally shot, lives on YouTube. Sometime when you have an hour and a half, click here and enjoy. I was right up front and it was glorious.

Here’s the thing; I could write thousands upon thousands of words and hit you with a zillion clips, etc. and it still wouldn’t be enough to sing the praises of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione of the punk cabaret duo The Dresden Dolls. It’s a long, long story.  But if you’re unfamiliar with them and are curious, do some googling and clicking and when you come up for air, you just might find yourself as spellbound as I am over them.

I am however going to tell you why the show,  which was the middle one of three sold-out nights at The Paradise Rock Club was so significant, so memorable, so satisfying and so completely overwhelming.

It begins with a fellow Dolls fan named Jessica who posted on the show’s Facebook event page something along the lines of  “hey I’m going solo, anyone want to hang out by the stage with me?” I responded with “I’ll be there, let’s hang!” A bit later a Brit named Toby commented that he too would be alone and could he also join us? Of course he could. A few other people chimed in as well. It was hours before the show and I was already having a good time. That’s the thing with Dresden Dolls shows, we all kind of love each other, at least for one night. We’ve got each other’s backs. It’s special. I know that might sound silly but it’s true, it always has been.

And so I joined Toby -who had flown in from London just to go to this show – in the line outside the Paradise about an hour before the doors opened. He was chatting with a woman named Jacque, here from Manhattan for all three shows.  Soon after Jessica joined us.  The sidewalk bonding had begun, a nip of Dr. McGillicuddy’s Mentholmint schnapps was handed to me which I promptly downed (my first one and I dare say it was tasty) and when the doors opened at 7 p.m. the four of us managed to secure spots at the far left of the stage, pretty much in front of Amanda Palmer and with a perfect view of Brian Viglione and his studded Chuck Taylors that I’m very envious of.

Our posse immediately grew by several more people and the show began at twenty past eight when Amanda and Brian took the stage to much hysteria from the crowd and started us off with “Girl Anachronism.” Holy fuck.  My new friends and I started to properly freak out and the freak out continued for just under three hours. The thousand other people who were packed into The Paradise also rode the Dresden wave of ecstasy.  I imagine we all love them for different reasons. First, there’s Brian Viglione. He’s a drumming deity who can play a bunch of other instruments. Watching him play is like watching a kid running wild in a candy store and his skill is without end. Speaking of candy, here he is tossing Starburst into the crowd.

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Dresden Dolls drummer and official madman Brian Viglione. Candy throwing action shot by Aimsel Ponti

And here’s Brian doing his thing. He plays with a level of animation and passion that is joyful to watch and listen to. He also has an exceptional sense of fashion. That jacket  kills me. Be sure to check out his other band Scarlet Sails.

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And then there’s Amanda Palmer.  Palmer is probably the most out there musician I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a fan of. And I mean “out there” as a massive compliment. She shares more of herself than most and has a heart the size of a small planet. I’ve interviewed her a couple of times through the years for the Portland Press Herald (Maine) and she’s genuine, kind and will pretty much talk about anything and everything.

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Here are six photos of Amanda Palmer because I had a really good spot. Taken with my iPhone so they’re not exactly amazeballs but she most certainly is.

Palmer engages with her fans on social media regularly, is willing to be bold in the face of adversity and there’s an unspoken level of trust between she and her fans. She keeps what needs to be kept private and has boundaries like the rest of us, but there’s very little she won’t talk about and if you haven’t read her book “The Art of Asking” yet consider yourself very much nudged. But the thing I love most about Amanda Palmer is her songwriting. No topic is off-limits; abortion, masturbation, sex, love, life, death and anything else you can think of. She’s also an accomplished pianist and when she sings nothing else that’s going on matters much.

The songs she and and Brian recorded for the Dolls’ handful of albums are sacred to me. They’re sacred to many people. This is why they sold out three shows at The Paradise. This is why every time they reunite to play shows we all freak the fuck out and scramble to get tickets.

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you may have noticed a running theme, which is the fact that I have a very difficult time sometimes being truly present. It’s complicated. But there are times, like on Saturday night, that I’m able to let go of my worries and be the version of myself that I like the most, the version who is in the moment down to her bones. And OK, fine, I wasn’t driving that night so I may have had a few too many whiskeys thanks to both close proximity to the bar and the generosity of some of my new friends. And also because the show felt like a celebration. Jesus H. Jamesons. Jesus H. Jack Daniels. I had an absolute blast soaking in the show – and the booze – with my friends, singing along, screaming our heads off. And here’s a fun fact; if you were at that show let it be known that it was yours truly who handed Amanda a Jamesons. I mean why wouldn’t I? I was having a hell of a good time and she looked thirsty. Fan to artist moment of appreciation. All good.

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The Dresden Dolls’ setlist was 21 songs (give or take) long and I’ll include it below. From album cuts to b-sides to exquisitely well-chosen covers, they chose well (despite not playing my beloved “Jeep Song.”).

As I mentioned, the Dolls hit the ground running with “Girl Anachronism” and kept it up song after song. My personal favorites of the night were “Missed Me,” “Mrs. O,” “Half Jack,” “Backstabber” and “Gravity.” But if I’m going to really nerd out, I’ll say that I loved every song and couldn’t believe how intense, wild, fun and crazy this show was.

They ended with a hardcore super deluxe favorite of mine and I’ll reveal that momentarily.

Now about those covers. Dresden Dolls OWNED Madonna’s “Material Girl” and played the hell out of the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Pop. They invited fans to dance on stage while Brian played guitar, Amanda played drums and everyone in the room sang along with The Beastie Boys’ “Fight For Your Right.” They’re take on PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me” was also spectacular. But the cover that really, really killed me at this show was Ani DiFranco’s “Napoleon,” one of many brilliant songs from Ani’s “Dilate” album from 1996. Hearing one of my favorite bands play one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists off of one of my favorite albums was EVERYTHING.  And then some. Oh and then there’s Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam,” a song I first discovered by way of David Bowie in the 80s. They’ve been playing this one for years and I hope they never stop. It’s a passionate tale of a song and Amanda walked off the stage, up across the balcony and back onto the stage while singing it.  I mean why wouldn’t she?

The first encore song was “Amsterdam” followed by another audience singing every note one; Coin-Operated Boy. And then it was time. I crossed my fingers and held my breath and was rewarded with – we all were rewarded with- “Sing.” This song touches me on almost a molecular level.

These lyrics have never rung more true than they do RIGHT NOW:

“There is thing keeping everyone’s lungs and lips locked
It is called fear and it’s seeing a great renaissance
After the show you can not sing wherever you want
But for now lets all pretend that we’re gonna get bombed
So sing”

And you bet we sang. It was beautiful and human and powerful. It was the PERFECT song to end with. When the show was over my new friends and I said our goodbyes knowing we had just shared something profound. I hope that feeling never wears off.

Here’s my montage of clips shot from my amazing spot. Editing props to Shamus Alley.

Thank you, Brian and Amanda for giving us everything you had last night. Thank you to my fellow fans for being cool and mindful and kind and so into it like I was.

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Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione sharing an end of show hug at the Paradise.
Emotionally drained but happily taken photo by Dresden Dolls fan and nerdy writer, Aimsel Ponti

Here’s the setlist that is based on my notes and one I found online. I’m not 100% sure that this is 100% accurate but it’s pretty close.

Dresden Dolls. Paradise Rock Club. 11.4.17
Girl Anachronism, Dirty Business, Missed Me, Ultima Esperanza, Pirate Jenny, Mandy Goes to Med School, Shores of California, Mrs. O, Gravity, Glass Slipper, Thirty Whacks, Victim, Material Girl (Madonna), Blitzkrieg Bop (Ramones), “Fight For Your Right” (Beastie Boys), Rid of Me (PJ Harvey), Napoleon (Ani DiFranco), Bank of Boston Beauty Queen, Backstabber, Half Jack, Amsterdam (Jacques Brel), Coin-Operated Boy, Sing.

Ponti out.

A resplendent show from Tori Amos in Boston: 11/2/17 Orpheum Theatre

Tori Amos has been making me feel all the things since before feeling all the things was even a thing.

My first time seeing her was at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA on April 27, 1992. This was of course the “Little Earthquakes” tour. The Iron Horse is a tiny, historic venue and my friends and I were the last ones in and because the place was already packed the three of us were seated on a bench just off the the side of the stage. In other words; insane seating that I’ll never forget. The 1992 version of myself sat there in awe of what transpired for the next hour and a half. From “Crucify,” “Precious Things,” “Silent All These Years” and the other-worldly title track it was a transfixing show from a woman who straddled her piano bench in a acrobatic way and who held my heart in her hand with every note sung and played. I’ll especially never forget when she hit us with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” The wind was knocked out of me and I’ve been gasping for breath ever since. After the show my two friends and I tapped on the dressing room door and she opened it and welcomed us in where we sat and chatted for about 15 minutes. She was lovely. I’ve been a hardcore fan ever since and used to be a rabid collector or every Tori related thing I could get my hands on; mostly import CD singles with b-sides, live tracks, etc.  Because that’s how it was being a Tori fan. I was all in. I still am.

Since that first show in 1992 I would estimate I’ve seen Amos live about a dozen times.  Sometimes solo, sometimes with a band and always magnificent. I don’t mean to hit you with such a profound cliche but I’m goddamn going to. There is truly no one quite like her. Like many of her fans, I literally can’t imagine my life without the “Little Earthquakes,” album. Not to mention “Under the Pink,” “Boys for Pele,” etc etc etc. She writes from a place that not everyone can access. It’s like her brain and heart and soul all converge and the songs arrive from the sky on umbrella clasping pixies. Or something like that. We may never know. What I do know is that Tori Amos is one part goddess, one part genius, one part sorceress and one part tender-hearted human.  Listening to her music is is like visiting an astral plane. And it’s like therapy because she goes places with her songs that will rip your guts out and make you  weep like you’ve just discovered what crying is and you’re not sure if you’ll be able to stop.

Which brings me to last night’s show in at one my favorite spots on earth, the Orpheum Theatre in the heart of Boston.  It has been six years since my last Tori show and my fellow hardcore Tori fan and friend Laura and practically genuflected before walking in. This was, somehow perfectly, soon after walking right by another goddess outside the venue by the name of Amanda Palmer. But that’s a WHOLE other story.  My immediate reaction was to stop and talk to her but we kept on walking because, I don’t know, it seemed like the right thing  to do at that moment. I’ll be seeing Amanda’s band Dresden Dolls on Saturday night at The Paradise, also in Boston, so look for that review soon. But know this: I am almost surprised that the earth didn’t stop spinning for a few moments when both of these women were in the same room at the same time. Jesus. H. Christ.

Laura and I repaired to entirely wonderful seats about seven rows back in the center section of the balcony and enjoyed a nifty set from openers Scars on 45.

And then it happened. At about twenty past eight. The house lights dimmed and out walked Tori Amos dressed in a turquoise blue(ish) silk blouse, black leggings and her beloved high-heels. She gave us a wave and took her spot on the 18 inch high rectangular platform where she sat between two pianos, including her signature Bosendorfer grand. It was time for the Boston stop on her “Native Invader” tour to begin.

Despite still recovering from one of the world’s worst colds of my life, I for real stood up and screamed for joy. It could not be helped. Many of us did. Tori joy cannot and should not be contained.

Tori started the show off with “Ileee” from her 1998 album “From the Choir Girl Hotel” and a feeling of pure bliss overcame me. Nothing else in the world mattered other than this exact moment. This is rare for me, more rare than you can possibly know.

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Entirely unimpressive but none-the-less enthusiastically shot iPhone photos by yours truly, Aimsel Ponti.

And then Tori Amos played the second song of her show and Laura and I both had tears in our eyes.  For me, it was like 25 years of my life flashed before me. Emotions stabbed at me, old demons visited,  my heart felt like a pinata being shown no mercy. And I loved EVERY second of it. The song? “Little Earthquakes” with these lines:

Oh these little earthquakes
Here we go again
These little earthquakes
Doesn’t take much to rip us into pieces

And these lines: Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.

The song ended and I turned to Laura and said “the show could end now and that would be OK.”

Tori, however, was just getting started. She played another 15 songs spanning several albums including “Reindeer King” from the mesmerizing  “Native Invader.”

Tori pivoted on her stool back and forth from one piano to the other, never missing a beat.  On more than one occasion she played both pianos simultaneously.

I had several heart attacks during the show, especially during “Cooling,” “Northern Lad,” Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Lloyd Cole’s “Rattlesnakes” and “Honey.”

She ended with “Beauty of Speed” but we knew she’s be back for an encore. A minute or so later, Tori walked back out on stage and stood before us. I did the only thing I knew how to do at that moment. I screamed “Precious Things” in the loudest voice I’ve probably ever used in my  entire life. And while I am not taking credit for it, I all but collapsed in a Tori Amos induced fever when she launched into the song.

Tori closed out the night with “A Sorta Fairytale.” I love the  song and although I may have chosen a different one to end with it did not detract from what was was a truly enthralling night of songs from one of my favorite artists. BTW, vocally, she’s sounding as strong, vibrant and well, Tori-esque as she ever has.

Tori Amos has 15 studio albums and about a zillion b-sides and such out in the world. It’s never too late to start your own voyage of discovery. Start with the new one “Native Invader” and work your way back. Or start somewhere in the middle. Or start with “Y Kant Tori Read” or the sacred “Little Earthquakes.” But prepare yourself for an emotional journey like none other.

And if you ever get the chance to see her live, either on this tour or the next one, GO SEE HER.

Ponti out.

 

 

 

 

 

Creating intimacy with 50,000 fans: The brilliance of U2 on the 2017 Joshua Tree tour

It’s been 48 hours since I saw U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA on June 25, 2017.

Still tired yet still smiling, I’m sitting at my kitchen table in my newly purchased U2 t-shirt and hoodie and have finally figured out what I want to say about the concert experience of Sunday night.

So much has already been said about this band and about this tour that’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of their magnificent album, The Joshua Tree. So much has already been said about how U2 is one of the greatest bands that the world’s ever known. So much has already been said about how their live shows are pretty much a religious/spiritual experience. So much has been said about Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry.

So what can I add to the conversation? First I’ll mention some cool technical stuff that I received from the band’s publicists and then I’ll talk about the personal impact the show had on me.

But first, here’s a collage of photographs that I shot during the show with my iPhone. My friend Colin and I are hardcore fans and we had field seats.  We got to the show before noon and spent a heck of a lot of time standing in assorted lines. But the end result is we were just a few feet from the “tree” stage that extended out from the main stage. Said another way; holy shit we were right up front.

U2 at Gillette Stadium on June 25, 2017Photos by Aimsel Ponti
Photos by Aimsel Ponti of U2 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA. 6.25.17.

So back to the cool technical stats that I think are worth sharing:

The stat: Dutch photographer and film-maker Anton Corbijn whose iconic photos are part of the original “Joshua Tree” album went back to Death Valley and Zabriskie  Point among other spots to produce a new series of films that are projected behind the band in jaw-dropping 8K resolution on a 200 x 45 foot screen behind the band as they played.

My comment: I’ve never seen anything so massive and so spectacular. It added a whole other layer of depth and meaning to the show.

The stat: A specially commissioned film by French artist J.R. accompanied “Miss Syria” (originally titled “Miss Sarajevo”) was shot at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. This is home to 80,000 Syrians who were forced to flee their country.

My comment: To see such devastation on such a large scale was overwhelming. The film was shown while the band played “Miss Syria” and what’s more, a giant tapestry of a refugee woman that was probably 50 square feet was passed over and among the crowd on one side of the stadium. Incredible. Moving. Real.

The stat: Creative director for the tour is Willie Williams and he has been U2’s show designer on every tour since 1983.

My comment: Willie, you’re a genius. My first U2 show was at the end of 1984 and this most recent one was my 7th. They’ve all had different layers of brilliance.

The stat: The Joshua Tree tour stage is 200 x 40 ft and it is almost the full width of a stadium

My comment: Holy bananas. It was huge and it was perfect, especially with the backdrop.

The stat: The stage set features the largest un-obscured and highest resolution LED video screen ever used in a touring show.

My comment: Leave it to U2 to take it to a whole other level of multi-media awesomeness. This screen was from another planet. Incredible.

The stat: The screen is make up of 1,040 individual video panels. The 200 x 45 ft custom built screen is painted to look like a golden piece of cardboard and features a silver Joshua Tree. The tree extends above the screen and becomes the visual centerpiece of the show.

My comment: A feat or artistic and engineering mastery. I can’t even…

The stat: The B stage that extends into the audience from the main state is a perfect shadow of the tree that’s part of the screen.

My comment:  Yep, they did that.

The amount of thought, design work, carpentry, electronic wizardy and all around technical magic is awe-inspiring. It’s not over the top, it’s not too much, it’s perfect and glorious. U2 doesn’t need any of this stuff. The first time I saw them was on the “Unforgettable Fire” tour and I don’t remember anything other than maybe a simple video screen. But they are all about being on the cutting edge of what can be done. And they do it so well. And what’s more, in the context of a giant stadium show, it very much added to the experience.

So how was the show? Actually, that’s not the right question I should be asking myself. Because yes, the show was INCREDIBLE. And being right up front was all the more special. The show was transcendent. The show brought me to tears. The show made me dance and made me sing and shout and feel just about every emotion a human can feel.

The right question came to me a few hours ago. Actually a slew of questions and  here they are:

Did this show make me feel the way I felt when I first saw U2 as a teenager? Did it make me feel the way I did all those years ago when U2 were to me essentially larger than life gods? Did the show remind me of why I’m a music writer? Did the show remind me of why there are few things more important to me than music? Did the show keep me in the moment and out of my own often tormented head? Did the show reach right inside my heart? Did the show make me feel connected to everyone else there? Did the show make me genuinely care about the welfare of others? And when the show started with Larry Mullen Jr. walking over to his B stage drum kit and launching into “Sunday Bloody Sunday” did I feel a tremendous wave of love for this band crash over me that it was all I could to do hold myself together?

Did it do all that?

Here’s my one word review of the entire show:

yes
Here’s the set-list: Sunday Bloody Sunday,  New Year’s Day, Bad, Pride (In the Name of Love), Where the Street Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,  With Or Without You, Bullet The Blue Sky, Running to Stand Still, Red Hill Mining Town, In God’s Country,  Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill, Exit, Mothers of the Disappeared, Miss Sarajevo (Syria), Beautiful Day, Elevation, Vertigo, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), One, The Little Things That Give You Away (new)

I’ll end with a compilation video of several song clips I shot from my to-die-for spot on the field. Editing props as always to my pal Shamus Alley.

 

Final thoughts:

THANK YOU U2 for a night I’ll never forgot. When you sang “Where the Streets Have No Name” I thought of my late father-in law. When you sang “Bad” I thought about a lot of things; both painful and beautiful. And when you sang “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” which is my favorite Achtung Baby song while images of powerful women who have made history in so many ways scrolled across that giant screen I cheered with everything I had.

Yeah, you sure do keep me hanging on.