Although tagged as 'theatrical' this flamboyant duo really does a lot with a little.
Self-proclaimed Brechtian punk cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls has made a name for itself with theatrical videos and a sideshow-like atmosphere during its live performances. Now the Boston-based band is finally showing off its musical muscle as well.
Last week, the Dolls' sophomore album, "Yes, Virginia..." (Roadrunner), debuted at No. 42 on The Billboard 200.
Such a grand entrance was possible because vocalist/pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione have been touring non-stop for more than a year, and "Yes, Virginia..." embraces a more mainstream sound than their debut album.
"Honestly it was an accident," Palmer tells Billboard.com. "We selected the songs for the second record the exact same way we selected the songs for the first one -- what are our strongest live songs in the set right now? We didn't really give much thought to how people outside of our fan base would react to them, we just knew that these were the songs that were working well in concert."
In fact, fan reaction -- and interaction -- plays a major role in how the Dolls approach their music. In each city they visit, the twosome always extends an open invitation to other performance artists to lavish concertgoers with sensory experiences before the set. This so-called "Brigade" includes anything and everything from burlesque trapeze acts to Dadaist artwork in the bathrooms.
"We try to throw curveballs into the shows all the time," she says. "I'm one of those people who's constantly looking for crazy ideas. My brain just never stops cranking, and everything I see I'm trying to figure out how we can incorporate it into the show."
Although that is a big part of the Dresden Dolls' mystique, Palmer hopes the audience stays focused on the band's music.
"We're constantly called a theatrical rock band, but what we do on stage is pretty f***ing simple. We have no backdrop, we have very simple lights and it's a girl playing the piano and a guy playing drums. As far as a rock show goes, it doesn't get much simpler than that," she notes. "The songs are very dramatic, and the delivery is very dramatic, but there's no theater involved. I would be very disappointed if people mistook that as the fundamental point of the Dresden Dolls.
"There are so many rock bands out there that use a lot more theatrical devices than we do, but we get tagged 'theatrical'," she adds. "It's almost flattering because it means we're actually doing a lot with a little. If people are walking away with the impression that our stage show is over the top when all we have is two people and two instruments, that's pretty f***ing impressive."
For obvious reasons, the Dolls are often compared to the equally flamboyant male/female duo the White Stripes. But only time will tell if Palmer and Viglione will be catapulted into the same cult status.
"I think the idea is not to think about it, honestly," says Palmer. "We've really just sort of been going with the flow. We've served ourselves by just responding to our fans and taking opportunities as they come and not trying very hard to push our band in a specific direction."
The Dresden Dolls are currently touring the United Kingdom, and then in June will hit the road in the United States with Panic! At The Disco.