‘There’s no end to the love you can give
When you change your point of view to underfoot’
I have had a good year for gigs. My band played De Montford hall as part of the Metal 2 the Masses competition, I got to see The Gaslight Anthem earlier this year for the tenth anniversary of The ’59 Sound and on Halloween I got to see The Dresden Dolls for the first time on their 18th bandiversary as Brian and Amanda met at a Halloween party. The warm up show and the two nights at the Troxy were the first time they played in London since 2006 so I had hardly been negligent but I’m so glad I got a chance to see them.
I met up with some friends before the show, but once we got there we all ended up going our separate ways but I had a brilliant time. There were plenty of people enthusiastically embracing both the Halloween and punk cabaret aesthetic but for me, I was happy with seeing the show from a distance and taking everything in. I don’t have the kind of brain that gives itself over wholly to anything, plus I am too old and fragile of head for moshing these days. I will sing lines and bits of songs but as much as anything I watched the night unfold over a couple of hours quietly taking away different memories and thoughts.
There is something glorious about the way Amanda and Brian interact whilst playing. As someone who has been playing music and been in bands for closer to twenty-five years that I’d care to admit, the simple and not so simple interaction of two people playing off each other is a joy to behold. I’ve played in various bands over the years and there has always been a sacrifice to the collective but watching this duo there was a playful push and pull that interwove throughout the songs. I’m lucky in that I’m usually not the kind of drummer who sits and only focuses on the drummer at a show, I generally listen to the entire sound but with this duo I could afford to focus more on Brian as he played on his kit, rims and even hardware. I’m not sure I have ever had quite that level of musical freedom when playing on stage. Someone has to be the bedrock a band can build on and whilst in the groups I play with that is more often the bass that is usual, Brian was playing the kind of tricks that for me remain firmly stuck in the rehearsal space.
What I also enjoyed was Brian talking about the importance of being open to possibility and creativity, which are the kind of words that are easy to make sound earnest and worthy but in this gig space felt warm and truthful as he discussed their first rehearsal.
A mention should also go to the theatricality of Dolls. There’s a reason they term it punk cabaret and not just because Amanda took the opportunity to sing Amsterdam from the staircase of the Troxy, which is a pretty amazing venue, although I’m a sucker for Art Deco, and is definitely sympathetic to the Dolls style.
Then there are the songs. I’m a serial lover of moments and snatches of lyrics. I have loved the start of Delilah since I first heard it, and as much as I enjoyed the whole set, it’s those moments where I feel literal goosebumps that stick with me.
I found Amanda Palmer through Neil Gaiman and so it was a nicely circular moment when his choice of song for the band to play turned out to yield a personal highlight of the night. The way Amanda introduced the song Boston, the situation it was written in, and the way they performed it was damn near perfect. It’s not that I stood there relating to the lyrics personally, but the writer bits of my brain that wander round the world putting me in other people’s shoes and asking questions shut up and latched on to the story being told. I may not have shed the tears Amanda mentioned in the intro but I really wasn’t far away.
The Halloween spirit of trickery wandered onto the stage as ‘Oasis’ reformed with Andrew O’Neill retaking the stage to provide lead work and a certain writer, who had come to the gig as himself playing bass to boot.
Finally, after an evening of coming together and reminders of the importance of voting in the upcoming American elections the band finished up with Sing, bringing the whole venue together in song along with various guests lined up across the stage. A great couple of hours to celebrate with Amanda and Brian the eighteen years from when they first met.