Chorus & Verse - April 6, 2005
Dolls: The Stone Pony / Asbury Park, NJ (04/05/05)
by Chris Bade
ASBURY PARK, New Jersey (April, 6, 2005) -- Never in my entire 23-year concert going history has a band captured my attention the way the Dresden Dolls did. I know the very second this happened. I saw them a year and a half ago in Philadelphia opening for Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum. By the time the drums collided with the vocals and piano in the first song, which I now know was their standard opener “Good Day,” I was hooked.
According to a recent press release, more than 60,000 other people got hooked on the band and bought their self-released album. Roadrunner Records got hooked and signed them last December, and Trent Reznor got hooked and offered the Dresden Dolls the opening slot on Nine Inch Nails' upcoming U.S. tour.
Whenever I describe the Dresden Dolls to my friends, it's always the same reply: "How can a band with just piano, female vocals, and drums be any good?" My response is always the same as well: "They're not good, they're great." You have to see them to truly appreciate what the Dresden Dolls are all about.
"People who have heard the album and never seen us live are always very happily surprised when they see our show for the first time,” said Brian Viglione, the band’s drummer. “Whereas people who see the show first and then buy the album say it's nothing like what it is live. It's a very different experience for people like that. We were nervous at first when we released the album, but it just turns out it's a different experience depending on how they first heard Dresden Dolls."
However, once the Dresden Dolls' music is absorbed into your system, one thing is certain; you will never forget them. Having read so much about the band since I first saw them, I was anxious to see them at this very special point in their career. As I sat in my truck outside the Stone Pony, I wondered: How many people will be here tonight? Is their music going to be drowned out by screaming young girls? Did they sell out? Will I get to talk to Amanda [Palmer, the band’s singer/piano player] even though their publicist said I couldn't interview her because she's saving her voice? Is Brian cool?
The tour manger invited me into the club and Brian was onstage preparing for the sound check. After listening to the monotony of the individual drum checking, their soundman turned him loose on the kit, and I was probably one of three people in the club that paid attention to his mini solo; the other two being the soundman and Brian himself. This guy has beats. His influences, Vinnie Paul, Dave Grohl, and Elvin Jones, came through loud and clear.
After the sound check, Brian explained to me about the drumming philosophy that was ignited within him when his father first introduced him to the legendary Elvin Jones.
"My father brought me to see Elvin when I was 11 years old and it changed my life," Brian said. "Elvin was a real role model. He inspired me to make the drums my own voice and to speak that part of myself that can't be communicated verbally. I always looked to him for that kind of guidance."
Amanda went onstage next and they ran through part of “Good Day” for the light man's benefit, so he would know when to bring up the lights, which happens to be the same point in the song that reeled me in to begin with. I wonder how many people are transfixed during this moment like a deer in the headlights?
Brian switched to acoustic guitar and Amanda asked Jason Webley, her friend and the opening act, to grab a mic and sing “Two-Headed Boy” with her. They seemed to be having a good time as they worked on the harmonization.
Meanwhile, I was in earshot when their tour manager asked if the doors could be opened a half-hour later, so that the Dolls had time to finish their sound check and have time to properly set up the merch table. I laughed to myself and it was at that moment I realized that the only thing that has changed with the band was their popularity. This was going to be a fun evening.
After a fine performance from accordionist Jason Webley, whose Nick Cave-meets-George Carlin gothic pirate yarns kept the crowd thoroughly entertained, Amanda and Brian made their way through the bar and on to the dark stage, preparing to play for the well-packed house. Arthur, Stone Pony security and light man for the evening, did an excellent job of bringing up the lights during the opening song, “Good Day,” to reveal Amanda in her crushed velvet black dress and knee-high striped stockings and Brian, wearing short trousers and a tie a la Angus Young. Only Brian's hat of choice is a bowler and, with his face paint, reminds me of King Diamond's recent menacing get-up.
Yes, Dresden Dolls have a gimmick and, yes, most gimmicks in the music world are cheesy, but it works great for them and the kids eat it up. But I can't see Brian and Amanda dressing like this for shows when they're forty (with Brian's kit rising from the stage after the announcer shouts, "You want the best…").
I can see why people get turned on to the Dresden Dolls through witnessing a live show rather than listening to the CD. Don't get me wrong, the disc is full of amazing songs, but it was clear to me that Brian and Amanda are telepathically connected and their onstage interaction is so deep that one can almost see the (leather) tethers that bind them.
Brian explained to me how their relationship translates into the music which he and Amanda create.
"You've got your best friend right there to share making great music and essentially share your life goal and dream with," Brian said. "That's really one of the deepest bonding elements of why the chemistry between the two of us runs so strong and deep. When we met each other at that very particular time in our lives, both of us were desperately seeking the compliment and fulfillment to what we were working for so long. We found it so completely in each other and it made the whole experience concentrated in our relationship. It's been a really beautiful friendship to watch blossom over the building of this band."
After hearing the Dresden Dolls play the quirkily-clever crowd-pleaser "Coin-Operated Boy", then switch gears for The Black Sabbath classic “War Pigs,” or the more intimate “Truce,” there cannot be anyone in the crowd that does not feel the bond between these two musicians.
The Dolls played several new songs and reworked older material that may wind up on the new studio album that they will record for Roadrunner Records at some point. The band has been playing some of these songs since before their Winter 2004 European tour and a lot of the crowd is familiar with them. To me, they sounded equally as good as those on their debut, which will be re-released on April 26 through Roadrunner.
Brian gave me a bit of insight into the material they plan to record for the next album.
"The one unifying theme of the new songs is that there is a more straight-ahead rock feel to them," Brian said. "They capture more of the energy of our live show. The new ones have a little more of the band's stamp on it. They're a reflection of the material that we worked on together as opposed to the songs from the first album that Amanda wrote and I put drums to."
Brian came from behind the kit to play acoustic guitar, and Jason Webley and Brian's sister Mya joined Amanda center stage for the encore, “Two-Headed Boy.”
The Dolls then returned to their respective instruments and acknowledged the crowd's request by playing “Slide.” The encore continued with “Gravity,” the unreleased song “Sex Changes,” and their standard closer “Truce,” a song of epic depth and emotion. Amanda Palmer's songwriting style at times reminds me of Meat Loaf's bombastic collaborations with Jim Steinman ("Bat Out Of Hell", "Back Into Hell"). Not that she's writing twelve-minute theatrical pieces about getting laid, but Amanda definitely has a similar rich lyrical pool that runs very deep.
For my last question, I asked Brian if he could play drums with any band, past or present, who would it be. He contemplated this question for so long that I thought it was going to cut into his dinnertime, but he finally answered me.
"One band that always did some cool shit that laid down great grooves and had really interesting playing going on was The Miles Davis Group in the mid-seventies when Jack DeJohnette was playing drums," he said. "I listen to those records and the way those guys play together absolutely rocks me to the core. Band Of Gypsies would be a great one to play with, too. I love Buddy Miles. Fuck, who wouldn't want to play with Hendrix?"
Yes, Brian, who indeed.