The Dresden Dolls

By Alexandria Brown

WHEN: 2000 – present (on an unofficial hiatus since 2008-ish)

CULPRITS: Amanda Palmer (vocals, piano, harmonica, ukelele, guitar) and Brian Viglione (drums, percussion, guitar, bass guitar, vocals)

ALBUMS: A Is for Accident (2003); The Dresden Dolls (2003); Yes, Virginia… (2006); No, Virginia… (2008)

HOW: Is your punk lacking cabaret?  Do you often lament the lack of performance art in rock concerts?  Need more music about masturbation, sex, break-ups, rape, abortion, stalking ex-lovers, gender identity issues, LGBTQN debates, the sad state of the world, and people slowly going mad?  What about mimes: sexy or really sexy?  Does your coin-operated boy look nothing at all like Brian Viglione in a dress?  Well, look no further, dear reader, for I have the band that is sure to solve all your woes!

Formed in the heady, seedy, quirky, and totally unorthodox era of the Boston music scene in the early aughts, The Dresden Dolls are a uniqueness unto themselves. Like Nine Inch Nails does with Industrial, The Dolls pretty much has the market cornered on punk cabaret (well, them and the utterly awesome Two Ton Boa). This is a band that demands headphones. Layers upon layers, secret chords, whispering chains, vocals on top of vocals on top of vocals. Plug ‘em in and crank it up to 11.

Staffed only by Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, The Dresden Dolls sounds absolutely unlike anything else you’ve ever heard.  Neither are anything like anyone else but themselves: Brian is a transvestite and often skirts it up on stage; AFP doesn’t shave her underarms or legs but shaves off her eyebrows and paints them decoratively instead.  She resides usually on the keyboard and he on drums, but the sounds that come out of the two of them is akin to an orchestra. Though they are no longer a couple (she’s currently madly in love with Neil Gaiman and their relationship – christened “Steve” – can be chronicled through their adorable Tweets to each other) they have continued to use that passion to drive them musically.

WHY: It was the spring of 2005 and I had spent the last half of the semester staying up all night, waitressing all morning, and going to class all afternoon.  My thesis and about 8 squillion other papers were all due in space of two weeks and college graduation just after that.  It was 2:00 am and I was shaken out of my statistical analysis induced stupor by “Coin-Operated Boy” on the radio.  I was, needless to say, completely bowled over. That summer I saw them live for the first time when they played a local festival as an opener for The Violent Femmes.  Maybe two dozen people were there, it was deathly hot, I was drunk on cheap, watered down beer, and the music was so moving I thought someone spiked my drink.  Watching them join The Femmes later on was even better.  Now at least twice a year my best friend and I see them (or just AFP) perform live and each show KO’s the previous one.

Why are they so amazing?  Because they love what they do.  They really, truly love it.  And by putting their hearts and souls into their music, into their concerts, they don’t just play on stage, they perform.  They both have backgrounds in theater, performance art, and street performance (as living statues) and that desire to put on display something they and the audience are proud of, something both can experience, create, and alter together, something profound and interesting and artistic and creative presides through everything they do.  They have no pretensions and no egos.  These are rock stars who will hang out with their fans at the bar before their set, who buy flowers for people waiting in line to be let into the venue, who willingly and eagerly sign autographs and take pictures with their fans.  AFP is known for hanging out online for #LOFNOTC, auctioning off her belongings, and showing off creative fan art.  Sadly the band is currently on a quasi unofficial hiatus (mostly due to their continued battle with evil Roadrunner) so AFP can be found on her never-ending world tour or on Twitter while Brian teaches drums and guest-spots on other albums.

Watching Brian drum so hard he breaks his sticks, hearing AFP hit the piano keys so intensely her whole body quakes, feeling my heart race faster and faster with each chord, it was like I was listening to music for the first time.  It was the same experience I had when I first read Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, when I first saw a Hayao Miazaki film, when I first heard Nine Inch Nails, Death Cab For Cutie, and Nick Drake.  The Dolls shifted my perception of reality by showing me new ways of experiencing life and new ways of interpreting those experiences.

SONGS: I covered every studio album, but no EPs.  A For Accident is mostly just a collection of live songs, but I included it so you can at least hear them live if nothing else.  But I urge you to drop what you’re doing and go see them (or AFP) live next chance you get.  On a personal note, their self-titled record is my favorite of theirs and if you ever need to track me down just look for the car blaring “Girl Anachronism” at the top of its stereo.

SIDE NOTE: If you do find yourself wanting to get your grubby little hands on some Dolls, please buy directly from The Dolls themselves. They’ve been trying to extricate themselves out of their contract with Roadrunner for ages and whatever you buy from any other source (like or Target) goes to the evil corporate entity rather than the two hardest working musicians in the business.  She self-financed her solo record (Who Killed Amanda Palmer — which is excellent, by the way), solo tour, and music videos and she still hasn’t seen a dime of it.  And if you can track it down, buy a copy of the WKAP book; it’s chock full of photos of dead Amanda and short stories by Gaiman.

Brian Viglione has just started using Facebook and has been posting links about upcoming shows there.  AFP has a blog but is more likely to be found on Twitter.  There is also a Dresden Dolls website but neither Brian nor AFP have anything to do with it and it is run by Roadrunner.

LINK: Click on the list below to hear The Dresden Dolls for free on!


Alexandria Brown is a librarian by day, writer by night, and archivist in training.  She was born, raised, and still lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when she’s not at work or procrastinating on her homework for an ongoing Master’s degree you can usually find her at the beach, driving to the beach, or setting up iPod playlists to listen to at the beach.

~ by Brad East on December 3, 2009.

2 Responses to “The Dresden Dolls”

  1. From what I understand they’re no more! Not an unofficial hiatus!

  2. As far as I know there’s been no official word, but, yeah, the band’s pretty much defunct, but I like to hold out hope…

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