It’s a breezy but sunny day as I ride the train to Penn Station in New York City for a very special concert, The Dresden Dolls are playing Irving Plaza. It is the bands 10th anniversary but also the reunion of the band after a three-year hiatus. Today is Halloween and there are more than a few 20 somethings on the train heading for parties in clubs and bars, maybe even a few are going to see the Dresden Dolls. For those of you that don’t know, I’ll tell you.
The Dresden Dolls are Amanda Palmer; lead singer, keyboardist and songwriter and iconoclast and Brian Viglione; drummer, guitarist, bassist, pantomime/actor and everything Amanda is not. The pair make unique duo that serves up some of the best indie rock music you’ll ever hear while still maintaining the underground feel of a club band known only to a few. Amanda calls their music Brechtian punk-caberet, but that is only to dodge the label of Goth, punk is a term that could be a little mis-leading, since their music is nothing like The Sex Pistols or any other punk band. The lyrics are where the Dolls take a great turning away from the typical punk bands anger and violence. Amanda’s songs; some going back to her high school days, are about life, love and loss. Whether talking about how sex changes you or about a 17-year-old paraplegic girl in love with a 22-year-old german man she’s never met (based on a true story) , Amanda gives us slices of life, some are like cold pizza, hard and chewy, others are straight from the oven, hot and fresh, scolding hot but always good. This is definitely music that takes some thought to digest properly, while still being very listenable straight-up rock n roll.
The Dolls attract an eclectic crowd of punks, Goths, hipsters, performance artist/circus types and others who like the whole concept of “dark-caberet”. This is a style the Dolls along with other groups; most notably “Black Tape for a Blue Girl” have developed since the early nineties, Brian has also played with them. During the last three years Amanda & Brian have been on a break, after seven years of touring together constantly the pair who had shared much passion on stage and off had decided they needed some space. So without actually going through the formality of a rock divorce the un-married pair who fought just like a married couple went to pursue other solo ambitions, but the band never officially split up. When I first became a fan in 2008 I never thought this day would happen, I was driving and listening to an interview with Amanda about her use of the internet and sites such as Twitter to promote her music, sometimes scheduling impromptu performances and announcing them on Twitter at the last-minute!
I have all the cd’s and videos, heck I even have the companion song books the band put out for the first three albums, complete with pictures, history, photos, and the sheet music for piano, guitar and vocals. Most of the Dresden Dolls music is just piano and drums, but for a short time they had a guitarist and bassist and a few songs reflect this. I try to play along with my fledgling guitar skills and fantasize about playing live or being in a cover band. But at 48 that ship sailed long ago and I’m not on it.
This past week has not been too good, my brother lost his job and my mom is in much pain with her hip which is probably bursitis, but we don’t know yet. My folks got stuck with the car and had to have it towed to the gas station and got a new starter put in-ouch dollarwise, and I had to put a new power steering pump in my car and lost a days pay in the process,. The early word is no Xmas bonus this year, not because my company’s doing poorly, but rather because the millionaires I work for are building an eight bedroom house in the mountains, so the money got spent on their happiness. So I really need a good time out, I know I have to stop dwelling on the negatives, but at this rate the negatives are outweighing the positives three to one. But enough about me.
Penn Station is like a giant costume party, you know when the guests have just arrived and are still trying to get their bearings and find their friends, right before diving in to the mini-bar (there’s a reference for the fans), dozens of young and older people are heading to parties and bars are out dressed as everything you can imagine. There are guys dressed like Star Wars, Scooby Doo, Jack O’Lanterns, Cupid. A few girls are Zombie prom queens, Supergirl, Arabian belly dancers with Zoot-suit wearing cool cats, prison inmates, and on and on. I come up from below to a cool city at dusk and start walking to Park Ave and then turn right to head downtown. I’m a little cold but still stop to eyeball a few menu’s along the way. I pass a place called Artisanal on E. 32nd between Park and Madison that features cheeses and wines but also boasts an eclectic French menu with Duck Bourgingnon for $29.50! That’s not bad really for New York but I don’t have the money or the appetite. Earlier at home I made some very nice crepes with mushroom, Goat cheese, and leftover chicken. They came out OK but the sauce was missing heavy cream and butter,which I left out for health reasons but they were at least tasty and filling.
So I continue on my journey, offering to take a picture of a couple dressed as a sexy pirate and a murderous looking giant pumpkin headed monk who had been trying to take a shot themselves. I take a few pics and continue on checking out L’Express, another French place on E 20th & Park, a simple menu but old cafe style signage and a feel of old Parisian bistros. Then I see just ahead is Irving Place and turning left I find Irving Plaza easily and see that the line stretches down the block and around the corner! By now I need a loo and it’s a little too cold to stand outside so a check of the local watering holes is in order, so I walk back the way I came to check out a few places I passed.
There is an altercation going on between a cabbie in a white knit hat sitting inside his cab, and a European sounding man who speaks english but sounds French or rather Italian. The man is dressed in black leather and looks like a Jim Morrison type, he is yelling at the cabbie for some reason and starts to punctuate his words with repeated kicks to the door of the cab. Down the block I find a cool looking bar, but I am almost instantly driven out by the din of noise over the football game and the rabid fans watching it on TV, I move on to find a good spot but seeing none I walk back. I guess it’s about 15 minutes later and this time I’m on the same side of the street as the loud spectacle from before. I pass the scene with new cast members including the police! They appeared out of nowhere apparently. The “Euro Man” is now in handcuffs, his very attractive girlfriend is remonstrating with the police, pointing out to them that the door of the cab looks perfectly fine (which I can vouche for) and her man should be released. Meanwhile, Euro Man seems perfectly calm at these developments and stands now chatting as if he could break free and fly away like Superman whenever he wishes. I continue on not wishing to see what the final outcome will be, besides I can already guess.
But there is a lesson for you. Glen’s Rule Number Three: If your ever in New York City, don’t under any circumstances kick a cabbie’s door repeatedly! That is unless you like handcuff’s! So by roundabout ways I find myself sitting in a typical Irish pub in New York. It’s got the typical wood floors and tables with shades of green walls, a loud mix of music and five TV’s showing sports.The bartender at one end is dressed like Zorro, and the girl at the other end wears only a football jersey, some people have no creativity. The crowd is loud, middle-aged and features mostly non-costumed people save for one girl at the bar. I sip a cold Stella Artois or two, savoring the rare treat of imported beer and write at a corner table, while I wait for the doors to open at Irving Plaza. I can remember when this type of place was a second home to me, and I spent lots of money and many hours carousing with friends and looking for love. But now the bar scene is different, the smokers leave to go outside and come back in to their drinks a few minutes later. When I was still hanging out you could still smoke in a bar! I still miss it sometimes, I guess it’s oral sensation or hand to mouth need. I’m starting to think it’s time to leave but it’s warm and cozy in here, but actually I need more money so I leave a tip and gather myself for the long wait on-line. I pass by the seated patrons who are here for the night and step into the chill night air and make my way back to the show.