photo by Dan Weiss
Wednesday, Dec. 31
If the very idea of a pancake made-up cabaret duo popular with the Hot Topic set puts you off, you probably won’t notice that the Dresden Dolls’ frontwoman-currently-solo Amanda Palmer branches out more from her insular culture than most of her black-clad ilk. Won’t see Ben Folds overseeing a Tokio Hotel album now, eh?
But when she took the stage with entourage and ukelele at a freezing Bowery Ballroom at 3:30 am on New Year’s, Palmer scandalized her base more than any hipster by reaching across lines. Her interest in politics (a big “No on Prop. 8” banner), trivia-question pop music (albeit no “Umbrella” tonight) and PG-13 bon mots (“How’s my tiara working? Do I look disheveled yet attractive?” “What do we do when we feel sad? Steal music from the internet!”) demonstrate a willingness to engage far more than pop goth-fathers like Robert Smith ever did. Covers included a wistful “Fake Plastic Trees,” a bloody “My Favorite Things,” and a “Tainted Love” fortified by the crowd’s onomatopoeic “wonk-wonks.” Regina Spektor’s “Uh-Merica” fits Palmer’s irreverent pounding to the teeth, but her attack on “Apocalypse Please,” by medium-profile arena hacks Muse, was a surprise.
Her own hits stood up between schticks, launching into “Coin-Operated Boy” with a hocked loogie and finishing it off with her traveling silent-actor troupe the Danger Ensemble, who mimed like interpretative Frankensteins. “Leeds United” and “Oasis” from this year’s Who Killed Amanda Palmer? taught the New York mascara lobby about swing and cha-cha rhythm. And 2003’s ferocious “Girl Anachronism” drilled its block-chord insistence with a fury Fiona Apple could never muster. Crowd participation was the closest thing she had to backup musicians–surprising considering the horns and orchestration galore on her solo debut–but she held her own, even on the not-exactly-New Year’s-ready ballads about abduction and having her heart cut in half. But from a two-minute “Picture Time” act to the simulated dildo rape of a Katy Perry drag queen, this brooding–sorry, Brechtian–piano dork made her freak show work for more than just the freaks. When she finally growled, “As long as you look good in a tutu, nothing fucking matters!” she was weirdly right. 2008 was the year when nothing fucking mattered; could we elect a president in a tutu? Yes we can. And we did. It looks very good. —Dan Weiss