The Dresden Dolls are an American musical duo from Boston, Massachusetts. Formed in 2001, the group consists of Amanda Palmer (vocals, piano, harmonica, ukelele) and Brian Viglione (drums, percussion, guitar, vocals). The two describe their style as "Brechtian Punk Cabaret". The Dresden Dolls are part of an underground dark cabaret movement that started gaining momentum in the early 1990s.
The duo formed the day after Brian Viglione witnessed Amanda Palmer perform solo at a Halloween party in 2000. Their live performances soon gained them a cult following. During these performances the two band members often wear dramatic make-up and fancy clothing which push their cabaret/theater aesthetic. They encourage fans to become involved at their shows, with the fans' own stilt walking, living statues, fire breathers and other performance art becoming an integral part of the show. The Dirty Business Brigade coordinates the fans' performances.
The band's first name was Out of Arms. At some point, the name became The Dresden Dolls. The name, according to Palmer, was "inspired by a combination of things," including the firebombing of Dresden, Germany and the porcelain dolls which were a hallmark of pre-war Dresden industry; an early song of the same name by The Fall; and a reference to the V. C. Andrews novel Flowers in the Attic where the classically blond and blue-eyed protagonists are called "the Dresden dolls." The name also evokes Weimar Germany and its cabaret culture. Additionally, she "liked the parallel between Dresden (destruction) and Dolls (innocence, delicacy), because it is very much in keeping with the dynamics of the music, which sometimes goes from a childlike whisper to a banshee scream within a few seconds."
The duo was featured in a webcast performance at the 2002 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After a self-promoted demo recorded and released in 2001, their first release was the mostly live compilation A Is for Accident (Important Records), followed in 2003 by a self-titled debut produced and recorded by Martin Bisi (Swans, Sonic Youth) at The Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The album features fellow Boston-area musicians Ad Frank (guitar on "Good Day") and Shawn Setaro (bass on "Good Day", "Gravity" and "The Jeep Song"). Two songs off the album ranked in the Triple J Hottest 100, 2004, "Girl Anachronism" at #30 and "Coin-Operated Boy" at #12. In 2003 they were crowned the winners of Boston's long-running WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble.
On October 6, 2005 The Dresden Dolls were interviewed by the subject of one of their songs, Christopher Lydon, on the radio show Open Source.
In March 2005, the duo supported Nine Inch Nails on tour. On June 5, 2005, The Dresden Dolls hosted a free concert at the Paradise Club in Boston. When a power outage unexpectedly delayed their performance, city streets became a temporary stage for some of the many performers (living statues, stilt-walkers, and fire-breathers) who had come from across the world to entertain audiences. The entire event—both concert and street performances—was filmed and the resulting DVD, Live: In Paradise, was released in Europe on Oct. 10, 2005 and in North America on November 22, 2005, shortly after the band's Fall 2005 tour.
The Dresden Dolls' second studio album, Yes, Virginia..., was released on April 18, 2006. Over the summer of that year, the duo performed at South by Southwest, Bonnaroo, Britain's Reading and Leeds Festivals, and Lollapalooza, in addition touring with the rock band Panic! at the Disco as their opening act. During the support tour, the band presented "Fuck the Back Row - A Night of Celluloid Vaudeville". The events consisted of screenings of short films from friends and fans, performances by local artists, and a solo show by Palmer who performed mostly cover songs inspired from film soundtracks.
In June 2006, the Dresden Dolls Companion was released by Amanda Palmer. The book contains a history of the band and their first album - The Dresden Dolls - as well as a partial autobiography. The book also contains the lyrics, sheet music, and notes on each song on the album, as well as a DVD featuring a 20 minute interview with Palmer about the origins of the band and the first LP. The interview was conducted by a friend while Amanda compiled the artwork for the first LP.
On August 16, 2006, the East Providence Community Theatre in East Providence, Rhode Island premiered a full-length, fan-written jukebox musical entitled, The Clockwork Waltz, featuring songs from The Dresden Dolls' three albums. The show was encouraged by the band and their management.
In December, 2006 and January, 2007, the music of The Dresden Dolls was featured in an original production - The Onion Cellar - at the American Repertory Theatre's Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The play is co-authored by duo member Amanda Palmer, from her original concept.
On January 14, 2007, the duo took a temporary hiatus. Palmer worked on her solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, while Brian Viglione toured with Boston-based HUMANWINE and other local Boston acts, along with touring with Jesse Malin and offering drum clinics.
In June 2007, they joined the True Colors Tour 2007, including their debut in New York City's Radio City Music Hall, and their first review in the New York Times.
On July 10th, 2007, the DVD, Live at the Roundhouse, was released in the U.S.
From December 27, 2007 to January 13, 2008 they had their Winter Tour, starting at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, DC, and ending at The Norva in Norfolk, Virginia.
On January 15, 2008, they entered the studio to record new material for their fourth album, No, Virginia.... Released on May 20, 2008, it is a collection of b-sides and rarities, along with new recordings of old favorites and cover songs that were previously only available as live versions. The album has spawned a single, "Night Reconnaissance".
July 2008 saw the release of the second Dresden Dolls book, the Virginia Companion. It is a follow-up to the Dresden Dolls Companion, featuring the music and lyrics from the Yes, Virginia... and No, Virginia... albums.
In September 2008, around the time of release of Who Killed Amanda Palmer, rumors began to circulate about the future of the band. Brian confirmed that the band is currently on hiatus but emphasized that he and Amanda are on good terms and that they will get together again when it feels right for both of them.
Awards and Honors
- 2005 - WFNX/Boston Phoenix Best Music Poll, Best Local Act and Best Local Album.