The Dresden Dolls In Portland: A Punk Cabaret 
A Concert Review

Photo courtesy of the author.

The Aladdin Theater was glowing as I walked through the wide front doors and I could hear the hollering of the crowd as The Dresden Dolls were already entering out onto the stage. The “punk cabaret” two piece had no opening band and kicked off their set with the song “Good Day,” the first track on their early 2004 album. It felt like the perfect opener, as it referenced the beginning of their musical journey. Consisting of only piano and drums, the duo is known for dressing in a cabaret style with their faces painted like mimes, and it’s almost as if the music mimics the way they are dressed.

Without the drums from her bandmate, Amanda Palmer played piano as she sang the opener, one of the slower songs from their catalog. When the drums kicked in about halfway through the song, the energy in the old ornate theater went up a few notches. Some members in the crowd were dressed in costumes similar to the band which portrayed a sort of cult following. After the first song, the pace of the music picked up and Amanda and Brian began wailing on their instruments. The beginning of the set were songs from their early years, which brought me back to my younger self, remembering every word. I found myself hypnotized, singing along to the words I knew. 

After the first few songs, Amanda announced a new album was in the works, and spent the middle of the set playing the entire unreleased album. It felt intimate knowing the songs hadn’t been heard before. Amanda spoke in between songs and shared intimate details about her life and recent divorce that inspired the new music, which was melancholic but still encapsulated their signature sound. I was amazed at how theatrical they were on stage. Their facial expressions and gestures brought something extra to the performance. It was visibly and audibly clear that Brian was harnessing an immense amount of energy and transferring it all into his drumming. The beats were complex and powerful, and he never faltered once. 

When the music from the new album had been played, they switched things up surprisingly as they performed a couple cover songs. They started off by playing “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, the 70s English rock band fronted by Ozzy Osbourne. It was a curveball considering the different style of music, but it was done in such a way that worked so well with their instruments. When they finished the song, Brian exited the stage to bandage his bloody hand from his intense drumming. Amanda stepped away from her piano to introduce a special guest, a friend of theirs who had just moved to Portland; the perfect opportunity to join them on stage. Both Brian and the special guest re-entered the stage. This time, Amanda sat behind the drum set while their special guest was on bass, and Brian pulled out a guitar behind the microphone. They started up their second cover, which was “Fight For Your Right To Party” by The Beastie Boys. I was pleasantly surprised by this choice. What a variety to play a cover of an old rock band, and one from the infamous rap/rock trio from the 80s and 90s. Of course they nailed it.

They finished the show on their own instruments and continued with more of their older tunes with the same driving energy. They played their last song, stood from their instruments, and hugged each other for such a time that showed their love for one another. The connection between the musical partners was obvious and emotionally moving. When they left the stage, I waited patiently for an encore, for my favorite song, “Girl Anachronism,” which I knew they would play since it was their very first hit. Sure enough, they returned to the stage and Amanda started playing the first single notes on the keys of “Girl Anachronism” and everyone collectively roared. I had never heard the song so intensely. It was as if they took the energy of the entire show, doubled it, and put it into their very last song. 

Experiencing music live is vastly different from what an mp3 can provide. It’s raw and powerful as it reverberates through your body. As Amanda had mentioned earlier on in the show, The Dresden Dolls are meant to be a live performing band. I realized just how talented these musicians really are. The energy they put into their instruments creates an entity of its own that can only be seen in its natural form.


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