C’mon Do the Vegetarian Haggis
This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.
So off i went, in the company of only Emily “Wizzle” White, tour managress deluxxxe, crew-less, brian-less, bold and ready to play three solo shows in the land of my kin, bonnie Scotland. The flight over to europe was very auspicious, we were seated in front of 23 members of The Young Ambassadors Brass Band, an almost all-male, definitely all-british crew of brass-playing hooligans who had just finished a tour of their own in the states. They immediately asked us about the band (after Emily accidentlaly spilled 45 Dresden Dolls “bad habit/girl anachronism” sampler CDs out of her bag) and asked if we were “like taTu”. taTu is a russian teeny-bopper band of two underage girls who make out with each other. We said no, and informed them that emily wasn’t actually in the band, but that we would make out with each other if they gave us fifty dollars (each). They declined but one of the dudes behind us grabbed the samplers and asked if it was OK to try to sell them to everyone on the plane for a dollar. Fine with us. So he went from the front of the back of the plane trying to sell our samplers like an unstoppable drunken force, pausing only once to run back to our seats and ask us what the music sounded like. He then resumed his enterprise and earned us $21. Awesome! The rest of the flight involved him and his friends throwing shoes at us and sneaking up behind me to put clothespins in my hair.
The first few days in Edinburgh were vacation days, and I wandered around in ecstasy, soaking up the the marvels of the fringe fesitval. For those unaware, the Edinburgh fringe is the largest fringe theater festival in the world….it spans the month of august with over 200 venues, thousands of plays and events and endless activity…. it’s basically disneyland for actors and artists. Everywhere you go and everywhere you look there is something happening, street performers everywhere, theater at all hours, music seeping out the cracks of the sidewalks. I almost wept when I started reading through the fringe schedule and realized that I would probably have time to see two or three out of the 26,478 plays being put up. That first night we went to a stand-up show of my wonderful old friend Eugene Mirman (he’s opened up for us in Boston, and has toured with Modest Mouse and other rock acts around the world….and he’s VERY FUNNY: www.eugenemirman.com). The most hilarious yet disturbing part of his act was a found magazine that he presented called “Revolve”: it was The Bible in “people magazine” format to make it palatable to teen girls. Even the inside layout was the same as teen people or elle girl magazine (including pix of hottt teen boys and girls!)….but it was The Bible. THE BIBLE. I won’t even go into it. He also played some wonderful tape-recordings of a phonecall he received from a Christian Phone Company that was trying to get him to switch away from ATT and MCI because “ATT and MCI support Gay Marriage”. Eugene asked politely if he switched, would gays Just Go Away? The woman held it together pretty well, seemed to empathize with Eugene who went on a theatrical rant about how Gays Should All go Away, and the conversation that ensued was priceless. We almost peed our pants. After the show, Eugene took us to the Library Bar, which is an old university library (with old wooden and glass-door shelves and books and chandeliers and the Whole Deal) but during the fringe it’s converted into a VIP bar for the comedians. I was Good and did not drink. The next day we pitpatttered around and I went to rehearse my piano parts at a friend-of-a-friends apartment. Confronted with the friend-of-a-friend, it turned out that he was a musician named Mr. Andy and he started blowing wonderful music out of his trumpet. I met a few of his housemates and one was a beautiful girl named Ms. Ruby who could tap-dance and within a few minutes it was determined that we had to do a trumpet/tap-dancing version of “Coin-Operated Boy”. We rehearsed. Then at night we met up with Eugene again to see Daniel Kitson (www.danielkitson.com), an insanely funny comedian whose whole fringe run was sold out. Highlight of his show: his description of the terrible feeling you get when you find out that someone you hate loves the same band you do. Equally great: his description of sitting in a train car with a swarthy teenager playing annoying techno music off of his new-fangled phone for his girlfriend and the triumphant mutiny of the rest of the passengers. I can’t do it justice, you have to go see for yourself. Tell him amanda says hi.
The next day was a train trip to Aberdeen for the first show and I savored the Scottish countryside and the clickityclacking train sound that I love so much. I love trains. I love airplanes, but I love trains more, because you can move around in them more and there’s more things outside to watch. But I love both. Testaments to what’s left of a civilized society. The Show Itself was nerve-wracking but I played well and people, who came out in good numbers, seemed totally into it. There is a part of me that feels amputated without brian, even though there is a sense of freedom. I wasn’t a solo player for long enough to really have the right perspective, and playing solo has always felt like it’s somehow not legitimate. I think this trip pretty much erradicated that feeling. I attacked the piano with a ferocious determination and ignored the fact that my left hand was unsupported by the thump of the bass drum and that I had no-one on stage to communicate with. I communicated directly to the audience instead and it felt even more personal than usual…sonically and emotionally naked. I fell asleep thrilled and exhausted and we caught a train back to Edinburgh the next morning.
I ran straight over to Mr Andy’s for a final rehearsal of trumpet and tap-dancing and when I got there found more friend-of-friends, so what was once to be a tap-dancing a trumpet version of Coin-Operated boy turned into a full schedule of collaborations that included “amsterdam” with Mr Andy on upright bass and new friend-of-friend-of-friend Mr Nathaniel on guitar and what the hell we arranged a whole new song from scratch that Mr. Nathaniel had written, called “Hold Me”. It was a sort of old-timey ditty a la “honey pie” by the beatles and the lyrics were written from the point of view of the last man on earth who has survived the Apocolytic Reign Of Fire to find that he is the only survivor, except for one monkey and an all-girls choir. We added a breakdown in the middle that involved me playing the piano with my left hand and strumming the guitar with my right, while Mr. Nathaniel played the frets with his left hand and used his free hand to slap Ms Ruby’s ass in time with the music (while she tap-danced wildy, of course), and she in turn played the strings of the Upright Bass with her right hand while Mr. Andy used his free hand to take a trumpet solo. If it sounds confusing, it was. But it was beautiful.
We had been offered a slot at the all-night Bongo Club cabaret by a friend of an ex-girlfriend of a friend of a friend of a friend, so we decided to meet there later that night. I told them I would try to bring Regina (The Ms. Regina Spektor), who had a show scheduled that night. She and I met up for lunch before her soundcheck and I brought her to the forest cafe, which i had discovered a few nights earlier (on recommendation from a great band i met called terrafolk – www.terrafolk.org – who played super-tight gypsy covers of beethoven and van halen). it was a classic anarcho-punk co-op cafe with a big leaf-and-branch-filled room for sitting and the most delicious vegetarian food. we ate and got good green tea and shared stories and woes and then went to her soundcheck and tried a little song together, which we played that night at her show which was, of course, fucking brilliant. regina spektor is a piano-playin-poety-from-another-planet-singin-bad-ass motherfucker. i watched her in complete awe and was bolstered in my opinion that a piano can indeed stand on it’s own three legs.
I took Regina over to the bongo club and we stuffed into the overpacked dressing room surrounded by sequined girls and flaming gay MCs before heading down to play. It was very reminiscent of the Old Dolls Days when the PA never worked and the sound was always horrible, but we managed to pull of a pretty good impromptu show. I played a few songs on my own, Regina and I did a reprise of the song that I has sang with her at her show (titled “UH-merica” and a beautiful song it is….) and then my new band took stage and all hell broke loose. After a bit of celebrating and meeting many new people (a bunch of regina’s fans came over from her show and were also headed to my show the next day) i called it an early night before I got myself into Beer Related Trouble (i did not have such luck the next night). Goodbye, Regina….i always wish we could be friends all the time, but we’re always in different places. That’s what this is like.
The next day was Show Day in Edinburgh and I skipped soundcheck (how rock and roll)….to go to the circus. But This was not just any circus. This was the circus that puts them all to shame. This show makes Cirque du Soleil seems like complete pussies. They had their own tent and the show was a cross between Cirque Du Soleil, de le Guarda, beetlejuice, city of lost children, the dresden dolls and amadeus. There was no fixed seating, and the crowd (about 300) was directed to move around the tent floor, and the show took place at every concievable place at all times…at any given moment there might be a girl in a victorian nightgown flying on a trapeze above you while a woman ran flying by you pushing an old baby-carriage filled with apples and soap and ribbons and two men on the other side of you played along with the house band on beer bottles that they would then toast with and drink with maniacal laughter. Meanwhile, the lights were stunning and the atmosphere was just completely electric and twisted and beautiful and tragic and….just epic. I resolved then and there to drag them to the states with every ounce of energy and every penny i could muster to tour with us next year. a complete pipe dream, but who wouldn’t want to come see the dresden dolls in a circus tent with the best show on earth as a double bill? c’mon. the website of the company is www.nofitstate.com and the show is called “Immortal2”. if you’re at the fringe, get tickets now and go see it. they also tour, so check out the dates. send them my regards. I left them a love-letter on the reverse-side of a letter that had fallen from the roof of the tent (with hundred of others, in a snowy letterfall) during the show.
Inspired by my orgasmic circus experience I played an even more maniacal set than the one before, and the crowd was wild and the club sold out. There was a wonderful pair dressed as bloody surgeons with a beautiful doll (they were supposed to be part of a larger “Mandy Goes To Med School” – inspired living installation, but i think the rest of their cast chickened out). The opener (Lapsus Linguae – i can’t find a site for them but they opened all three shows) also tore it up. I kept these sets very album-oriented, unlike my solo shows in boston which are usually used as a testing ground for new material. This is sort of a frankenstein of the set i played all three nights, with all the songs smusched together:
Manner of Speaking (by TuxedoMoon)
Coin-Operated Boy (with Ms Ruby on tap-dancing and Mr Andy on trumpet at all three edinburgh shows)
Me & The Minibar
I want you, but I don’t need you (by Momus)
Such Great Heights (by The Postal Service)
Lua (by Bright Eyes)
Amsterdam (with Mr. Andy and Mr. Nathaniel)
Hold Me (ditto – written by Mr. than)
Ampersand (yes, the very one)
Hallelujah (by Leonard Cohen)
To top off the night, i got a last-minute invitation to haul my self and the whole impromptu band over the Spiegeltent for a late night show starting at 2 am.
The Spiegeltent deserves a few words. It is a magic place. I saw my first Spiegeltent (which means “mirrortent” in german) when I was at the Adelaide fringe festival in Australia in 2000, shortly before I met brian. I was over there to See The World and try to make some money as The Bride. The business was bad there that year (at least according to all the other street performers, and I barley covered the cost of my ticket) but I saw some great World things and one was the Spiegeltent. There are actually about 20 of these tents in existence, and they travel around parking themselves at festivals and bringing cabaret joy to the people. They are so indescribably beautiful that one should just go look at www.spiegeltent.net (there’s a really cool 360-degree virtual tour photo up there), but suffice it to say it is a 1920’s-era wooden dance-hall tent bedecked with velvet and mirrors and stained glass. Pretty Much Heaven. There is one top company called The Famous Spiegeltent that book the entertainment and it’s always a late-night destination for racy cabaret and amazing music at any theater festival. The staff and bartenders wear gorgeous weimar-cabaret inspired clothes and the whole thing is pretty much an amanda-palmer-wet-dream. so to be invited to play there was a wonderful treat, and i sat down at that shiny black grand piano at 2:15 am with a feeling of bursting joy I can’t describe. The tent was full of late-night, drunken, tired, sparkling hazy applause and beauty. People sat down on the dance floor and with my broken and tired voice, I played a few songs and attempted a “Mrs. O”, which always sounds better on a Real Piano, and then my impromptu band (by this time someone – at the Bongo Club, i think – had dubbed us “The Cabaret All-Stars”) played our numbers and we were finally caned off stage by the management. This is the point where I started to get into Beer Trouble (and Wine Trouble, and a little bit of Cigarette Trouble) and in retrospect, I should have eaten more than just lunch that day. Skipping dinner proved to have been an unwise decision as my little yogacised body was not so Into the idea of all of these liquids, and even though I only drank about 4 drinks over the course of the night it was probably about 3 too many.
Suffice to say the next morning was a little rough but I actually felt pretty good as we caught a ride to our last show in Glasgow and I ate a sandwich to absorb the small trace of Hangover. Evil Sandwich! It made an appearance in my hotel bathroom toilet much later that night, after the show. I think playing a show is a bad antidote for a hangover, I stirred up many emotions (and the sandwich). But playing in the face of adversity, loathe as I am to admit it, always makes for the best shows. Without fail. Facing my guilt about Being Stupid and Not Taking Better Care of Myself gave birth to an Amanda vs. Amanda show and I threw myself into the songs with every little bit of anything I could muster. And it worked just fine. The house was sold out, again, the crowd was fucking incredible, and I left stage and collapsed immediately on a couch and Wizzle needed to pry me off with a spatula to get in a cab back to hotel, where i briefly re-visted my sandwich (evil!) and fell into a sweet slumber. I felt much better in the morning and the flight home was uneventful, save for running into the Bravery at Heathrow. They are the omnipresent Band who we run into No Matter Where We Are. I mean, it’s uncanny. They were on their way to Florida and I was on my way to the Tie Rack where I had left my boarding pass like an idiot while buying a scarf.
Brian, like a true friend, picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to Whole Foods (which is like Mecca in the world of the Dresden Dolls, every day at lunch we chant and prostrate ourselves towards the Whole Foods in Austin, TX which is like the mothership that will take us all away when the Man finally takes over the World). He tried on the vintage kilt and jacket I got for him (wicked sexy and no underwear to be authentic, but then again brian would look sexy wearing a dropcloth) and then we went to our old haunt The Lizard Lounge where a great local band that Brian recently discovered, Humanwine, was putting on an acoustic show. I was almost passing out from jetlag but it was perfect music to sit and be exhausted to…a gorgeous combo of guitars and haunting singing (go see: www.humanwine.org). Brian seems to be much happier now that he’s Had A Rest.
All in all I give this trip an A. it would have gotten an A+ if not for the Evil Sandwich and the Beer Trouble.
I am so happy to be home and have re-established by relationship with my yoga mat and kettle. no more Beer Trouble until after the record is recorded. she said.
Oh, and for anyone who has ever travelled, ever, or for anyone who hasn’t, i highly highly recommend “The Art Of Travel” by Alain de Botton. His previous book, “How Proust Can Change Your Life” is also brilliant. They are both quick reads and sort of humorous yet deeply profound pop-philosophical wanderings that make your soul go “yes! yes! fuck! yes!”
I would also like to publicly state how awesome Dan Savage is for giving us a shout-out in his sex-advice column “Savage Love” (www.villagevoice.com/people/0534,savage,67087,24.html). I’ve been a huge admirer of his ever since seeing him speak in 1997 and now he’s helping us take over the world! I love him. Return the favor and read all of his sex advice, because He Knows.