Dresden Dolls, Alec K. Redfearn & the Eyesores and Eryss
The Green Room - Providence, RI
By Greg Bancroft
I am really starting to like Providence. Well, at least some of its venues and a few shops. The Green Room was of such a size that between the stage and the bar, there was room for maybe seventy-five people. However, it was not some filth-ridden mold-hole by any stretch. On this night, they were hosting a show featuring Serotonin, Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores fresh from the Rock Accordion Summit, Eryss, and The Dresden Dolls. When we arrived, Serotonin was just starting to wrap up. It was a two person act, with one on cello and the other playing a small stringed instrument of indeterminate origin while an automated drone of some sort played. It was relaxed meditative stuff that I would honestly have liked to see long enough to have formed an opinion about. They yielded the stage to a rather large ensemble that introduced itself as Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores. This was more of an ensemble than a band, with standing bass, saxophone, washboard, what I believe was a French horn, various drums, guitars, electronics of some sort, and various small instruments some members pulled double duty on as well as things I probably missed from where I was standing. This was all harnessed to create a rather engaging atmosphere. It caused me to think back to some of the country music of indeterminate origin I loved so much; the stuff that was evocative of the lone figure strolling across a desolate landscape musing on the nature of the world and the state of his soul. The vocals were more along the lines of the "indie-pop falsetto" bit Toby Driver does in Kayo Dot than hardened cowboy though. The delicate beauty of the opening number gave way to a brief intro to the elongated "Dashboard Lazarus." Several minutes into this song is where my problems with the performance began. The band kept building to a crescendo, introducing some part in the midst of it, then continuing based on that. The problem was that the parts did not really have enough unity for that to work and the piece dragged severely. That is not meant to discount the band or its ideas by any stretch. Truth be told, they were an utter joy to watch and often did fantastic things that more than caught my ear. I guess part of my problem is that some of the ideas that were only touched upon were fantastic. Part of me wants to hear the material developed to its fullest possible extent, and another is hesitant to say anything for fear of seeming to degrade Mr. Redfearn and the Eyesores in some way. This "quirky off kilter gypsy circus pop rock," or whatever you'd like to call it, was delightful on many levels and is something I intend to keep an ear close to if I can.
After the A.F. and the Eyesores managed to clear off their plethora of materials, the stage was cleared for four people to set up a basic rock configuration of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard for Eryss. One thing I noticed right away was the setup of everything really drew attention to the singer. This is, of course, typical but somehow seemed more obvious than usual. Two gents who wore similar pants, shirts, and knitted toques flanked her. She let her hair down in the center of stage, wearing black that stood out for some odd reason. Plus, her voice dominated. It was not a Worcester-esque situation where vocals were only discernible because they buried every other element in the mix. It was more a case of her having a surprisingly strong vocal presence for one of her physical stature. I would have enjoyed things a bit more if the rest of the band stepped it up a tad. They played fairly pleasant mellow hard rock, but there was this confusing lack of variation from song to song. I would get disoriented because there were four people up there but it felt so much like three since only the singer really seemed to be showing high levels of involvement with what she was playing. It is pleasant material that I could see going far, but it was simply not my thing. Perhaps some of it was that, by that point, it was getting near 12:30 and I was cranky due to the lack of my Dresden Dolls fix.
A month prior, I had seen this duo and been rather impressed. Their presence was undeniable, as was their musical skill. All in all, the performance stood head and shoulders above many death metal acts in terms of sheer intensity. So, I came to a second gig to make sure that was not a fluke since this was "cabaret punk" with a pianist and a drummer. I picked a poor gig to do this at, as Amanda Palmer had one of the bugs going around the area. She came out looking maybe a little bit woozy, and promptly proceeded to remove any doubts I might have had about the band's abilities. Maybe she shied away from some higher notes and grimaced a bit, but Amanda was still able to pull it all off. In fact, she even did a solo cover of Leonard Cohen's "Alleluia." As for Brian, he continued his idiom of being a madman behind the kit who was not afraid to throw in the occasional bout of humour. My favorite bit of the night was the "speed-metal" drumming in "Girl Anachronism" that resulted in the exploding stick, half of which bounced off my head and left some marks on my neck. I have seen many acts regarded as some of the most powerful to hit these shores, but how many of them got me with shrapnel? Even on a night where half the band was ill, the The Dresden Dolls were able to justify my earlier critical hyperbole and cap off a solid lineup.
Rasputina and the Dresden Dolls
The Call - Providence, RI
By Greg Bancroft
Providence, Rhode Island is an interesting city. Outside of a few intriguing local bands, it will be utterly devoid of decent shows for months then suddenly get two tours with very limited itineraries stopping there. One such case was Rasputina's east coast jaunt in December. One of the apparently seven dates was at The Call on December 13, 2003. This bar was apparently recently refurbished, judging by cleanliness of the facilities and pool table. Most importantly, the sound was quite clear with no one element drowning out everything else. The crowd was representative of a mixture of local scenes; with art-school kids across from me and some Renaissance-Faire clad folks chatting up punkers in front. Everyone except the obnoxious drunk guy with an underage date was quite courteous and sat cross-legged on the floor waiting for The Dresden Dolls.
One thing that has begun to bug me in the live setting is bands that offer only technical proficiency. It seems there is at least one scene whose rallying cry is "HEY! LOOK! I CAN PLAY!" The problem I have with that is basics of live performance like presentation and stage presence are thrown out the window. As a result, the audience needs to go into a semi-hypnotic state and be held in thrall of instrumental mastery or they will suffer. This is part of why I enjoyed The Dresden Dolls so much. It is very clear that Brian Viglione and Amanda Palmer are skilled musicians. That can be seen in many aspects of what they do on stage, not the least of which is avoiding stumbling while playing so passionately. They are primarily a drum/piano combo and as such need to play off one another to a greater extent than I am used to seeing to make it work, but do so beautifully. They pound out "cabaret-punk" so well that even a cynical metahead such as myself could not help but be engaged. To top it off, Miss Palmer was on fire, delivering unique slabs of lyrical angst with at least as much emotional investment as she played. All in all, it was the most pleasant complete surprise of the year in terms of concert going.
This set the stage for a lovely recital by Rasputina. In this incarnation, the band was Melora and Zoe on cello, and Johnathon on drums. Bear in mind that I am a regular attendee of metal shows. There is just something about watching men in white makeup "COME ON!!! ROCK!!!" gestures at a crowd while this pretaped bit that sounds like Danny Elfman got a call at 3 a.m. offering one million dollars to compose a thirty second bit in the next hour that predisposes me to be wary of anything rock-ish involving non-guitar stringed instruments. Fortunately, Rasputina does not view the cello as a token instrument by any stretch of the imagination. This "ladies cello society" is dedicated to their instruments and the playing thereof in ways that would baffle my former instructors. The two sat up there in what was apparently vintage turn-of-the-century clothing that I somehow doubt was as comfy as jeans and tshirts, and proceeded to outshred many a long-hair. Beyond that, they had a catalog of quirky cello-rock to choose from, including a number of covers that were all of the utmost quality. I had fun while being impressed, which was a continuation of the theme of the night. Both The Dresden Dolls and Rasputina were better than expected. My only regret was enjoying it so much that I felt the particular holiday gift was more to myself than the intended target.