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Former Dresden Doll brings sophisticated punk to Pearl Street

palmer_mysAmanda Palmer brought her sophisticated burlesque punk to Pearl Street last Friday, serenading the packed Ballroom with tunes from her debut solo release, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer.” 

As the former singer and pianist for punk cabaret outfit the Dresden Dolls, Palmer is no stranger to the limelight. Her multifaceted performance on Friday covered all the bases, from literature to fine art, without compromising on quality.

Opening the evening were The Nervous Cabaret, a group of up-and-comers from Brooklyn who came highly recommended by several of Palmer’s friends.

The quirky collective had the look and sound of an unstable mind, but kept it together with brass melodies and wandering bass lines. The enigmatic singer, Elyas Khan, was a man of few words but boasted the tuneful wailings of a siren song, all at once bizarre and captivating.

The Nervous Cabaret played duel roles, acting as both opener and supporting band, remaining on stage for much of Palmer’s act.   

Adorned in her typical barely-there fashion, a confident Ms. Palmer strutted on stage in a procession of trumpets and trombones that originated from the back of the theater.

Palmer immediately dove into some older Dresden Dolls material, appeasing new and old fans alike. The pure drama of “Missed Me” was executed expertly, alternating between Palmer’s husky whisper and twisted music-box melody of her piano.  Her staccato performance has room to swell in the concert hall, ending in a theatrical climax that can put the studio recording to shame.

 She proceeded in the set with material from “Who Killed Amanda Palmer,” beginning with the single, “Astronaut.”  The passionate piano ballad had previously been tossed around in Dresden Dolls shows, but her solo performance breathed new life into the tune. 

Palmer dismissed the band from her repetoire after the first few songs and elected to do a reading from the book accompaniment to her album.  Written by recent beau Neil Gaiman, the book is filled with grim fairy tales that feature none other than Palmer herself. 

After the reading, Palmer went on to perform some of her more earnest ballads.  Unfortunately, some old-fashioned Friday the 13th luck got the better of her, and she mistakenly started the song “Ampersand” in the wrong key. While audience members shouted out the proper notes, she recovered with a laugh and continued on to gracefully complete the tune.

There was no shortage of covers Friday evening either, with Palmer most notably trying her hand at “The House of the Rising Sun.”  Famously performed by the Animals, Palmer made the song her own with the bass support of the Nervous Cabaret.

Audience members went wild for “Oasis,” Palmer’s tune that was recently banned in the U.K.  Based roughly around her personal experiences, the song covers everything from rape to abortion, all the while galloping along with bouncy piano and beachy harmonies. 

The song is one of many examples of producer Ben Folds’ influence on the record.  In the absence of Folds, Palmer encourages the audience to provide the harmonic “oohs and ahs,” which were graciously echoed throughout the hall.      

As part of her brief encore, Palmer crawled up to a platform at the back of the audience and performed “Makin’ Whoopee” on the ukulele, claiming Gaiman had taught her the track on a recent road trip.

The song was originally made famous by Eddie Cantor and warns young couples of the imminent unhappiness that marriage brings to a relationship.  She joked that the song was dedicated to Gaiman but not because of its lyrical content.  

For a grand finale, Palmer mounted the main stage once again to perform “Coin-Operated Boy,” a celebrated Dresden Dolls tune.  Complete with marionette-like theatrics, the vixen of cabaret finished the evening with the same power and class with which it began.

A painting which had been completed during the set was auctioned at the end of the night and audience members were encouraged to purchase Gaiman’s book from the merchandise booth, since the novelist was present to sign copies. 

Clearly, Palmer has mastered the art of performance and her expertise is mirrored in all aspects of presentation.  Her interactions with the audience were sincere, all the while maintaining her fierce individuality as an entertainer and her passion for the stage.  There is just something enchanting about an artist who truly loves her craft.

Angela Stasiowski can be reached at astasiow@student.umass.edu.

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