Friday, December 10, 2004

Weimar Superstars

The Dresden Dolls/Noblesse Oblige, Medicine Bar, Birmingham, December 9 2004.

Sometimes when you come across support bands that are completely unfamiliar to you, it's difficult to think of too much to say about them. Often you're left with nothing other to write than 'sounds a bit like Oasis/Blur/Stone Roses' which can often be both too kind and too cruel at the same time. No such problems with Noblesse Oblige a Franco-German 'electro-trash' project featuring Sebastian Phillipp (from Silence Is Sexy, who looks like former RI:SE presenter Iain Lee in heavy mascara and a Carter USM haircut) and French performance artist Valerie Renay (looking like the missing link between Lydia Lunch and Coffy-era Pam Grier). Dressed in a vaguely disturbing nazi-kitsch all black, their non-stop autoerotic cabaret at first leaves the audience in a stunned silence as this is a band and a performance for which we're just not trained to respond. They sound nothing like Coldplay at all, in fact. I could also say that you just haven't lived until you've seen Phillipp sprawling on the stage floor screaming something like 'daddy! stop doing that to me!' while sodomising himself with his microphone, but, strictly speaking, that wouldn't be true, so I won't. Shocking, thrilling, entertaining stuff, then: think Scissor Sisters colliding with Throbbing Gristle in an early-hours autobahn pile-up, and you're somewhere there. Those of you who require more visual stimulus to fire your imagination there's a good selection of pics and vid clips here.

No bloody alcohol being served (what kind of f*%#in' bar, is this?) so little to do in the interval but study the audience. Not such hard work tonight as, judging on appearances, just about all the female drama studes from Aston University are present and correct in their best weekend goth outfits. Plus a guy in front of me with the sort of wild grey hairstyle which can only mean that he's either a legendary rock musician or a history teacher. Meanwhile DDs' backing singer and merch girl Whitney is handing out red roses to the ladeez in the house and spreading her pollen about all over the place in her rather fetching decolletage.

Finally, The Dresden Dolls arrive on stage, Amanda (avec skimpy dress and suspenders) and Brian (wearing a bowler hat and clown make-up) bowing theatrically to the crowd before taking their places behind piano and drums respectively. The set starts with the same song as their debut album ('Good Day') but the band include a liberal mix of new songs and cover songs so it never feels like they're going through the record by rote. There's an encouraging sense that, (akin with The Fiery Furnaces' show earlier in the year) this is a band who are already impatient to unleash new material on the audience and/or desire to create a live experience clearly distinguishable from their recorded output. Of the new songs, 'Backstabber' sounds really strong and 'Delilah' (sadly not the Tom Jones song) gives Whitney the chance to come on stage, add haunting backing vocals and model the hottest new item on the merch line (black Dresden Dolls knickers) for our perusal and delectation. Whitney, that's the greatest love of all.

Of the cover songs, Britney's 'Hit Me Baby One More Time' is the least successful beyond novelty value, its' impact partially reduced by Brian's rogue mic stand robbing us of his backing vocal high-notes. One of the other covers does supply the highpoint of the show, though: Mr Brian doing his finest Ozzy Osbourne impression, before the pair launch into an elaborate and virtuoso rendition of War Pigs (warning if you're at work: video clip with audio), a song I never thought I'd ever see performed on just piano and drums. Before they start the song, Brian breaks the news about the shootings at a gig on Wednesday night that resulted in the death of guitarist Darrell 'Dimebag' Abbott and three others (apparently victims of a 'wackjob' obsessed over Abbott's perceived role in the Pantera break-up a few years back). As well as paying respects to one of his heroes, Viglione also muses on the impact of the incident on future concerts, with gig-goers facing heightened security measures such as being scanned and frisked on entry. A sobering thought, if only I wasn't in the driest bar in town already.

Whatever, the future's looking bright (well, OK, maybe not bright, but perhaps a fetching matt black) for The Dresden Dolls, if only in 2005 British audiences could look for their passion and melodrama on record and in the shows, rather than the dreadfully tired off-stage tears and tantrums currently filling the gossip pages of the NME.


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