The Dresden Dolls: Live in Paradise

The Dresden Dolls - Live in ParadiseSynopsis: Live at Paradise June 5th 2005

At 11:58 PM on Sunday June 5th, after a five hour delay that had all hands on deck scrambling to try to restore power to parts of Boston, the generators at the Paradise Theater kicked in and the packed house of colorfully dressed jugglers, stilt walkers, living statues, artists, oddballs and other uncategorizable characters came to life – The Dresden Dolls were about to take stage. Paradise the band’s first ever DVD is a time capsule of the magic conjured that night.

Includes the documentary A Life In The Day Of The Dresden Dolls.


The Dresden Dolls: Live in Paradise 8.0

eyelights: Missed Me. Half Jack/Girl Anachronism. the artsy vibe of the event. Viglione’s mad drumming.
eyesores: the relative sameness of many songs.

The Dresden Dolls is an arty duo composed of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione. It consists of Palmer on piano and Viglione on percussion performing songs in what they label as a “punk cabaret” fashion. Don’t call them goth. They don’t like that. But the fact is that they also attract goth crowds – no doubt due to their overall aesthetic.

I first discovered them at the music chain next to work, when their albums made it into the 2 for 25$ section. I had never heard of them before, but the cover of their debut album really caught my eye. Again, it’s that aesthetic: I was immediately intrigued, wondering who they were. I proceeded to reading about them before buying the CDs.

I think that, around that time, I also stumbled on their ‘Live at the Roundhouse’ DVD in a second hand shop, contributing to my curiosity. I eventually decided to take a chance on them, drawn as I was and incapable of putting them out of my mind (at some point, you just give in). I bought the CDs and the DVD and dove right into the world of The Dresden Dolls.

I really enjoyed their dark cabaret (as some would call it) sound. But I think that it worked best for me in combination with what I was seeing. I loved their turn-of-the-century vibe mixed with a modern sensibility. I played the first album a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘Roundhouse’ DVD. So I picked up the ‘Live in Paradise’ DVD as well.

‘Live in Paradise’ is a concert film of The Dresden Dolls that was filmed on June 5th, 2005, at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club. It’s their first DVD and it consists of a full show, as well as highlights of the pre-show, a behind-the-scenes look at that day’s preparations, as well as a handful of bonus videos and concert performances. It’s a hefty package.

There are many ways of watching this DVD, as each segment is a separate menu option: 1) one can watch them individually, at one’s leisure, 2) one could do the pre-show and show at once to get the feel of being in the audience that night, or 3) one could just play the features in chronological order (documentary/pre-show/show) to get a full perspective on how the day unfolded.

This time, I decided to watch the pre-show and show to start.

The Pre-Show

The pre-show was MC-ed by Christopher Lydon, an American author and radio personality, who ironically, is the subject of one of The Dresden Dolls’ songs. This is an edited version of what took place; while there were a number of performances, the filmmakers decided to make a 20-minute highlights reel out of them, for some reason.

The first part consisted of a short interview with The Dresden Dolls, the three of them sitting at a round table draped with a black table cloth, backed by red drapes. Amanda was pretty in her cream-coloured polka dot dress and her traditional striped leggings, while Brian was dapper in his black suit, tie and (or course) his bowler hat.

Doing a mock radio interview session, Lydon called upon members of the audience to come down and ask the duo some questions, pretending to be doing a call-in radio show. We were privy two of them, although I imagine that there were more, during which the pair talked about their influences and backgrounds, as well as the group dynamics.

After this interview, a variety performers took to the stage for some intriguing theatre pieces. I don’t know if we saw all of them, but we were show excerpts of were The Lexington High School drama students with some sort of conceptual piece, the Grindhouse Marionettes show, and Miss Emily doing a mime show. All very artsy stuff.

Throughout that segment, there was behind-the-scenes footage and The Dresden Dolls’ music laid overtop. Because of this, it was hard to fathom what these bits were about (aside from Miss Emily’s performance, which was unedited). But it looked like quite the night out: there were even human statues in the hallways and a circus atmosphere of sorts. 8.0

The Show

The concert set-up wasn’t particularly elaborate.

Backed by large red drapes, The Dresden Dolls were the main attraction, with Palmer to the left with her keyboard and Viglione to the right with his drum kit. Given their respective instruments, they couldn’t move around or work the crowd much, but their performances were nonetheless incendiary.

For this 70-minute show, Palmer had changed into a delicate black top (with the striped leggings, naturally), while Viglione wore a striped shirt and red tie – and, of course, his bowler (which he kept for most of the show).

1. Good Day: Right out of the gate, I fell in love with Palmer’s voice all over again (it had been a while since I’d last listened to either the Dolls or her solo stuff). I loved that she got right into the show, putting her whole body into the performance. It’s unfathomable that she doesn’t tumble off her bench, the way that she rocks and twitches here. I also loved seeing the way that Viglione whacks his drums, like a man possessed – he doesn’t just hit them, he really whacks them. Punk cabaret indeed. 8.0

2. Missed Me: This is a very playful song, musically, between the keys and the many percussive sounds that are involved. What was great was that it brought out the clown in Viglione, who grimaced, made comic gestures, used his whole body to enhance each moment. I couldn’t stop laughing in amazement, watching this brilliant performance. For this bit, the director decided to superimpose the two in various ways much of the time. This allowed us to see both of them at once and not miss out on any of these carefully honed performances. 9.0

3. War Pigs: It’s very strange to hear Black Sabbath’s classic on only keyboard and drums; the arrangement is so wildly different! I’m not convinced that it works, frankly: Palmer’s voice isn’t really suited to it. However, it was an interesting performance nonetheless. Viglione got so into it, pounding away, that they had to start over midway through because Palmer couldn’t keep up with him. The crowd really dug it, though, and clapped incessantly, rhythmically after they started over. By then, the two were so sweaty that Palmer’s make-up had streaked down her face. Nice. 7.0

4. Perfect Fit: This is a slower song that builds up about halfway through. It’s good, but not anything that grabs me. The thing I recall the most about this one is the shot in which Palmer looks quite like The Joker (the classic version, with the sharp grin – not Heath Ledger’s creepy version). 7.5

5. Christopher Lydon: A tongue-in-cheek ode to celebrity crushes/hero worship, this one’s about the show’s Master of Ceremonies, who remained for the concert and is shown during the performance, reacting to the song. Nice. Fittingly, this is mostly a Palmer solo track, with some drums towards the end. 7.5

6. Bad Habit: Thankfully, this track kicks it up a notch. It’s faster, more energetic. Palmer even props herself up to play at one point. It sounded terrific and the bassier parts of it resonated across my living room floor. I quite enjoyed that. 7.5

7. Half Jack: This one starts off with a drum-centric approach, with Viglione going nuts on his kit, giving it a bit of the old ultra-violence. It’s instrumental for the first few minutes, before Palmer kicks in. It was so rhythmic that I was tapping along vigourously. 9.0

8. Girl Anachronism: It’s hard to distinguish the former from this one since they were played in close succession, like a one-two punch. I loved how half-crazed Palmer looks in some parts of this – she’s nearly as possessed as Viglione is. As with “Missed Me”, many shots are superimpositions. 8.0

9. Pierre: The first part of the encore set, “Pierre” is a whimsical song about a young boy who keeps saying “I don’t care” to everything. It’s sort of a duet, in that Viglione takes the role of Pierre and spends the whole song responding “I don’t care” in a petulant voice – and with the appropriate facial expression to match. It’s bouncy, funny stuff. 8.0

10. Truce: I don’t know… this didn’t do anything for me at all. The final part of it was quite good, though, becoming more erratic, kinetic. While it’s not the greatest closer (for me), the last few moments certainly sealed the show adequately. 6.75

Unfortunately, the show was clearly edited together (ex: each song was identified by intertitles that were reminiscent of old black and white films), which makes it hard to judge just how the show must have been for the audience that night. Were there delays? Lots of in-between song banter? This was clearly designed as a home video product, not as a faithful reproduction of the evening.

Having said that, it’s a good primer for anyone, and it’s lots of fun. Overall, I’d give it an 8.0

The Documentary

‘A Life in the Day of The Dresden Dolls’ is a near-b+w (severely under-saturated, actually) document of the day that unfolded before Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, as they readied for their big show. Using multiple cameras, it covers the moment that both of them wake up, in their respective homes, all the way to right before showtime

In the matter of 53 minutes, it unravels the glamourous life of music stardom: Palmer shared space with others in what appeared to be a small brownstone, did her own make-up (dropping barrettes in the toilet in the process), some yoga, meditated and took the light rail to their hairdresser’s. Meanwhile, while Viglione hopped into his old Volvo to meet her there.

The rest of the day consisted of her working on her lyrics, and receiving visitors, while Viglione practiced on the drums and tried to replace his touring drum kit – which had inexplicably not returned from their Mexico tour yet. To make matters worse, Palmer was feeling sluggish from a bad night’s sleep. And the Paradise Club’s A/C was broken.

But it wasn’t all bad news: The crews were all on hand, working to set up the night’s show, Palmer’s friends arrived early to prepare their opening acts, and their tour manager was able to find replacement equipment for Brian to use that evening. Christopher Lydon was on schedule (a small audio clip explains his feelings about having this song written about him).

Unbelievably, there was a block-wide power outage while the crew were setting up, delaying the show by several hours. It was back on track, of course, but everyone had to work furiously to catch up. In the meantime, stilt-men, painted freaks, a fire-breather and people with goodies distracted the people waiting in line, as well as passersby. It’s quite the sight.

What’s amazing is how implacable Palmer appears to be throughout the day. When the drum kit goes missing, she reassures Viglione, telling him there was still a few hours to resolve it and encourages him. When the power goes out, she laughs that no one likely noticed, as they were working in the dark anyway. Impressive, given the pressure she must have felt.

There’s not much to this documentary, but it’s interesting to watch. It takes the mystery out the show itself, but it also informs our viewing in some way. I’m not sure if it’s best to see it beforehand or afterwards, though. Both are viable, I think. I like the idea of watching the whole thing sequentially, of course, but it also works separately.Assuming one has (or will be) seeing the show.

I’d give this part a 7.5

The Extras

Rounding out the DVD are a few more videos, two of which are live performances taken from The Dresden Dolls’ performance at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark on July 2, 2005.

1. Coin-Operated Boy: This is a rather amusing ditty, being about her wish for an automated boyfriend to replace all the real ones, who are imperfect and break her heart. The performance is good, but there’s a point in the song, where they repeat the same beat over and over again, like a broken record, and it was overly long here. Fans dug it though. 7.75

2. Girl Anachronism: The set-up is the same as for the previous track, except that it’s much later in the show. One key issue about this footage is that the camera work and editing feel haphazard, like there wasn’t much method to it. That sort of ruin it for me: Either keep it minimal, to retain the flavour of the performance, or, if you must edit, then do it creatively. 7.5

This section of the DVD also features music videos for their two singles thus far (bizarrely, they’re located under the live show section of the menu – not an intuitive place to look at all)

(Nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Coin-Operated Boy: This is such a fun song. I love the lyrics, because we all wish for the perfect partner sometimes, and it would seem like a natural thought to just want to build one, customized to our needs and desires. This is a tongue-in-cheek song because she also points out some of the flaws inherent in such a notion. The music is quirky and playful, just like the lyrics (which, it must be said, were toned down for the single). Good times.

The video has Viglione play the titular boy, whom Palmer delights in showing off to us – while a string of desperate suitors are quietly waiting in her yard. In the video, her house is a goth/Victorian/artsy dream, all colourful and stylish in a DIY fashion. Palmer plays the character’s internal conflict very well here. There’s also some bits of the pair performing the song on their instruments, which is a good choice because it shows that Viglione is part of the band, not just a video shoot model. This is a great introduction to the band, capturing their essence especially well. 8.5/8.0

2. Girl Anachronism: This song is chaotic, very punk cabaret. It perfectly encapsulates the song’s lyrics, which is about a woman struggling with her personality, having had a mental breakdown and being on the mend. I quite like it, although I prefer The Dresden Dolls’ more playful side.

Much of this video is an outdoor performance by the pair, presumably in the same yard as the one used in “Coin-Operated Boy” (for the lovelorn suitors bit). It’s a vibrant performance. The rest of the video is shot inside Palmer’s actual apartment (as seen in ‘A Life in the Day of The Dresden Dolls’), featuring various incarnations of her (house-wife, nurse, French royalty, herself, ..etc.) vying for supremacy. 8.0/8.0

All in all, this is a very good document of a place in time, of what The Dresden Dolls were like back in 2005. For fans and for the curious, this is as good as it gets: there’s over two and a half hours of material on here and it gives you the performances, the personalities behind the stage personas, the glitz and the real deal.

For me, it was a joy revisiting it. I had forgotten just how vibrant they were, and had a total blast reacquainting myself with Viglione’s drumming style, which was probably the highlight of the whole thing for me. Obviously, Amanda Palmer is a central figure, but my astonishment and delight with him over-rode just about everything else.

I will surely revisit The Dresden Dolls’ music even further in coming days. And I will likely get around to their Live at the Roundhouse’ DVD at some point. So stay tuned.

Date of viewing: March 28, 2014

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