Amanda Palmer had an anniversary in mind even though the performance-activity status of what she was celebrating was essentially in limbo.
Nonetheless, the 10-year mark in the existence of the self-described "punk cabaret" act known as The Dresden Dolls — the duo project she co-founded with drummer Brian Viglione — was at hand. Of late, though, Palmer was busy with a solo career and stage work that took her far from the valley of the Dolls, leaving many fans wondering whether the band had discreetly called it quits.
"Mostly, it was just like a good symbolic time to do another tour because of the 10th anniversary," Palmer, 34, said. "Brian and I have gone on to do solo work. But the band remains such a significant part of our history. No matter what happens, whenever he and I get together to play, there is something magic and special that is just irreplaceable. So not recognizing the band's 10th anniversary would just would have felt wrong."
The story goes that the label of "punk cabaret" was adopted by the Boston-based duo because Palmer feared that the dark undercurrents of its songs and the theatrical demeanor of its concerts would get pinned with some variation of the term gothic. But listen to the fractured, playful piano and drum rolls on Dresden Dolls favorite Coin Operated Boy or the lyrical frenzy of Bad Habit, and you hear undeniable elements of traditional dance-hall cabaret music at work.
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The punk element rears its head in perhaps more obvious ways, with wild shifts in vocal and musical temperament. Palmer can sing with animated accessibility or gale-force intensity. But she views the complete notion of "punk cabaret" as much as an aesthetic as a musical tag.
"Like punk itself, punk cabaret isn't about the Dresden Dolls and isn't about Amanda Palmer. It isn't about anything really, except a state of mind that is total freedom. If Brian and I died tomorrow, I would hope the punk cabaret would continue. It's more like a credo of being yourself and following your artistic passion.
"I mean, my own influences are broad. You can hear a lot of everything in there, from The Beatles to musical theater to The Doors to Kurt Weill. It's anything and everything I've ever listened to. But it's still about that same kind of freedom. I never sat down to write songs by saying" — she adopted a formal, professorial voice — "'Well, what I really want to do is write a song that is part punk and part cabaret.' I just write."
The Dresden Dolls has no impending recording plans and hasn't released any new music since the 2008 EP No, Virginia, which consisted of music omitted from 2006's full-length album Yes, Virginia.
"The band is a process of continual unfolding," Palmer said, referring to the duo's future. "But I'm always happy to do what The Dresden Dolls have always done, which is see where the mood takes us. That way, we just follow our impulses."
Curiously, one of the projects that Palmer was most recently involved with outside The Dresden Dolls was a starring role in the American Repertory Theatre's production of Cabaret, where she played not the heroine Sally Bowles, but the more Faustian Emcee during a 43-show run.
"It was actually very hard to walk away from that because it was beyond a success," Palmer said. "It was a fantasy of mine for years and years and years to do that show. From the designers to the director to the choreographers, the whole show just went off like a frog in a sock."