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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.