The Dresden Dolls, Smoosh, and Ukulele Loki and the Gadabout Orchestra Tuesday, May 27, 2008 Ogden Theatre Better Than: Not dressing up in clothes from the movie Cabaret.
The Dresden Dolls throng was out in full force last night, but only about half of them donned the requisite black fishnet stockings or had the sallow cheeks that you'd expect from true, discriminating punk cabaret fans. This ratio seemed perfectly fitting, though, for a crowd that offered up a more enthusiastic response to "Don't Stop Believin'," which played over the PA before the Dolls took the stage, than any single song from the two openers -- a reaction that was definitely unwarranted for the ladies of Smoosh and at least uncharitable in the case of Ukelele Loki and his Gadabout Orchestra.
Loki and his cast of players – wielding tuba, clarinet, trombone, melodica, drums and sometimes guitar (though this was always drowned out by the rest of the instruments) -- brought a distinctive vaudeville vibe, playing simple, fun songs that disappeared from the brain as quickly as the dancing sidekick made her way backstage after performing in the crowd.
This sidekick, a woman who balanced herself on a ring near the beginning of the set and on two hanging parallel sheets during the last song, had folks mesmerized, while Loki’s pleasant but unfortunately quiet voice and equally quiet ukulele played on. The crowd didn’t muster much enthusiasm for his banter, but he gamely kept trying, offering up balloon animals and self-deprecating praise for the other bands. His efforts were appreciated: If this was supposed to be cabaret, the crowd needed to get in the mood.
Before the evening’s main theatrics commenced, however, the crowd would be whirled in another direction entirely by a straight-up, no-frills indie-rock band called Smoosh, made up of three sisters, all sixteen or younger. The act didn’t spend much time talking, let alone making balloon animals. Instead, the girls of Smoosh blazed their way through a killer set of tunes that recalled the riot-grrrl bands from their home town of Seattle, especially in the interweaving vocal lines of drummer Chloe (the girls don’t release their last names, for privacy) and singer/keyboardist Asya. In true Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney) fashion, Chloe absolutely hammered her kit, matching and sometimes even exceeding the Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione’s parts.
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Viglione and lead singer/keyboardist Amanda Palmer kicked off their set with a frighteningly stoic cover of Pink Floyd’s “In the Flesh,” followed by an equally stunning version of “Girl Anachronism,” a Dolls staple that showcased exactly how this duo has managed to become a headlining act in seven years of touring the country with its simple formula of aggressive drumming, theatrical vocals and dour, suspenseful keyboard playing.
The rest of the set was peppered with older material, songs like “Missed Me,” “Coin-Operated Boy” and “Boy,” as well as songs from the latest record, No Virgina, that felt far less distinctive the more the band played on. On tracks such as “The Gardener,” without Palmer’s entrance into the crowd, the song would have otherwise been a really boring acoustic ballad. Likewise, most of the new songs seemed to lean in the direction of grand, sweeping ballads. Fact is, the Dolls have always had this tendency (“Half Jack” from their debut as a fine example), but the act has never seemed so radio-friendly or unexciting. Perhaps a change of costume is in order.
-- James Anthofer
Personal Bias: I like a lot of Northwest Indie bands. And I love Sleater-Kinney. Random Detail: A short stocky guy with a huge bleached Mohawk was rocking out to Smoosh…until he realized that his equally stocky friend was looking at him confusedly. By the Way: Not only did Dresden Dolls open with a cover, they also played "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" halfway through their set and closed with both “War Pigs” and “Karma Police.” Smoosh also played a cover of Eels’ “Flyswatter” halfway through its set.