Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls played to an almost-packed house of adoring fans at the Bijou Theatre Sunday night; it was a concert that may be remembered, decades from now, as a strange dream.
Her band opened the show as the Nervous Cabaret, an intuitive sort of Dada-vaudeville group including a cornet, a trombone, and a bassist who often preferred to play wearing a sheep’s head; commanding lead singer Elyas Khan, with Turkish mustache, sang and occasionally wailed a sort of Arabic hip-hop yodel. After an intermission, the band paraded into the theater, whereupon they became Amanda’s sidemen. As Palmer played piano keyboards, they put on a mesmerizing show of rock and witty ballads, including several crowd favorites, like “Leeds United,” “Missed Me,” “Coin Operated Boy” and “Oasis,” her controversial song about abortion, with “Twist and Shout” wedged into the middle.
Most of the crowd, regardless of age and gender, would have followed her to bed, and taken orders. Part of the show indulged her audience’s (or her own) Twitter-fueled interest in Amanda Palmer as celebrity, taking audience questions from a bucket. Because the Bijou show was the last of her tour, she threw the bucket into the audience at the end. She also read from Neil Gaiman’s short stories, referring to the pop-cult author first as “a very nice man,” then as her boyfriend—adding that it was the first time she’d mentioned their relationship on stage. Some were surely fascinated with that news.
The band left after a long set, and the break was so long some were doubting she’d return for an encore. But then the house lights came up just a little, revealing her standing in the Lincoln box with a foot on the balcony railing, playing a ukulele without amplification. The previously boisterous crowd was struck dumb. What she was singing, in contrast to the rock ’n’ roll of the raucous main show, was a plaintive version of the 1928 hit “Making Whoopee.” After the first verse, two members of her band, the trombonist and cornettist, emerged above her head in the third-floor box and accompanied her. The young audience listened so closely they laughed at each of the song’s subtle jokes as if they’d never heard the song before, as maybe they hadn’t.
The band returned to the stage for a proper full-tilt encore, but that box stunt was a moment.