Boston's The Dresden Dolls (a duo made up of pianist/vocalist Amanda Palmer and guitar player/drummer/vocalist Brian Viglione) have been bringing their unique brand of punk-inspired cabaret music to the masses since 2001. Infamous for their over the top sense of the theatrical, the band incorporate strange make-up and costumes into their act which makes it very much performance art as much as it is simply music. Think of it as a very dark musical circus and you're on the right track...
The Dresden Dolls - Live At The Roundhouse, London is a slickly produced and nicely shot document of the two nights that the band played in the newly reconstructed and restored venue on November 3rd and 4th of 2006. What makes this more than just a simple concert recording is the fact that the band is somewhat famous for encouraging their audience to become part of the act. This has lead to all manner of strange things occurring at their shows where it's not uncommon to see other cabaret/circus performers doing their thing on or around the stage. Fire-breathers, stilt walkers, and jugglers all show up and bet into the act and perform along to the music and it makes for a visually impressive and wholly unique experience.
This concert finds Viglione and Palmer in fine form, however. Alongside Margaret Cho who appears here as a ringleader/master of ceremonies character, the pair bang out the best of their catalogue with passion, enthusiasm and an all too uncommon sense of pathos that really carries some serious impact. Dramatic, moving and intense the music obviously comes first and foremost but the visual aspect of the performance from both the band and the other participants has to be rightfully acknowledged as it really is a huge part of the experience.
The complete track listing for the concert contained on this DVD is as follows:
Mandy Goes To Med School
Lonesome Organist Rapes Page Turner
The Jeep Song
Shores Of California
Playing through most of their more popular songs and throwing a smattering of obscurities into the mix for fun, the two hour concert never drags thanks to the unique combination of surreal performance art and emotive, often angry music. The opening number, Sex Changes, starts off with a nice pounding on the keyboard and the drums at the same time and it gets almost primal as it progresses. From there they bounce around from slower tracks to heavier, more aggressive numbers. The crowd gets into it from the get go, singing along and obviously enjoying all aspects of the performance. Viglione and Palmer play off of one another extremely well, almost seeming to feed each other's intensity and it builds as the concert progresses and it finishes, appropriately enough with Girl Anachronism, with quite a crescendo.
The Dresden Dolls - Live At The Roundhouse, London is presented in a nice 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Though there is some obvious mpeg compression in the darker scenes and the stage lighting does wash things out just a bit in a couple of spots, overall color reproduction is quite nice and there's a solid level of both foreground and background detail present in the picture.
Audio options are provided in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes as well as a scaled down Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. All three tracks are in English, no subtitles or closed captions are included.
Whether you select the Dolby Digital or the DTS surround mix, you're going to be quite happy with the results. While the mix is geared towards the front of the soundstage fairly heavily, the rear surround channels are used nicely to fill in some ambient noise and audience reaction giving you the impression that you're sitting in front of the stage. Bass response sounds very nice (the DTS track does edge out its disc-mates just a bit in this department) while the high end is clear without sounding stressed or tinny. Levels are balanced very nicely and there are no problems with hiss or distortion.
Supplements include two bonus performances Missed Me and Delilah, as well as over twenty-minutes worth of documentary footage that explores what went into putting the concert together and which details the involvement of the various performance artists who play alongside the band. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included. Inside the keepcase is a booklet containing liner notes from the band who really lay on the appreciation for the other artists who collaborated with them on this event and which also contain full credits for the concert and for the DVD.
If you're not a fan of the band then this disc won't change your mind but for those who appreciate the theatrics and the flat out weirdness that The Dresden Dolls bring to the stage, Live At The Roundhouse, London is a solid release. The picture looks good, the sound is excellent and the extras are decent as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.