Return to Amanda Palmer


Palmer unites with Danger Ensemble for risque time

By Sally Browne
February 21, 2009 11:00pm

THERE'S never a dull day in the life of Amanda Palmer. The last six months have been busy for the bewitchingly exotic singer of Boston band the Dresden Dolls.

Not only has she released her debut solo album Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, produced by Ben Folds, she has toured the world with a devoted theatre troupe working only for tips, caused controversy in the UK where her latest (WARNING: mature themed) single Oasis was banned, aroused a "rebellyon" among her fans when her record label criticised her for not having a flat-iron stomach, and broke her foot in Ireland when it was run over by a car. Yet she still managed to play shows to rapt audiences.

On March 1, the 32-year-old singer brings her theatrical live show back to Brisbane where her back-up actors (yes, Palmer has back-up actors, rather than a back-up band) are from. Key among her entourage are Brisbane-based theatre troupe (WARNING: website includes mature content), The Danger Ensemble, who help bring her show, driven by Palmer's unique piano-based songs, to life.

Palmer discovered the group led by Steven Mitchell Wright when she saw their parent company, Zen Zen Zo, perform at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 2000.

"They're really just perfect. You really can't look people like this up in the phone book," she chuckles on the phone from London. "It really is a bizarre match made in heaven. And I couldn't imagine finding anyone quite like them in the world."

Although Palmer paid for their flights, the Danger Ensemble are working only for tips and so have been passing the boot (usually fancy footwear) around the crowd each night.

"The fans are also getting really creative about ways to get them money," Palmer says. "For instance, this London painter donated a painting that he had done of me to be auctioned off on stage and the proceeds went towards the Danger Ensemble. And it actually went for about 400 pounds (about $890).

"And the fans have been feeding us and bringing food to the shows and putting us up in their houses and generally being completely awesome to make it affordable to tour with this many people. It's really tough nowadays."

On the subject of fans, it was a fan letter by US performer Ben Folds sent to the Dresden Dolls' website that led to him producing Amanda's solo album. The two pianists worked together last year and recorded the album at Folds' studio in Nashville.

One of the songs that has his fingerprints all over it is the quirky, upbeat Oasis. It's about a very touchy subject: date-rape and abortion, which caused Palmer controversy when the UK refused to play the song and video after she released it there as a single.

The song's message is clear: The protagonist makes light of her own situation because she's thrilled she received a signed photograph of her favourite pop band in the mail.

"To me, it's just a very tongue-in-cheek character sketch of a teenager in total denial, which is pretty common actually," Palmer says. "There's something that's almost a little too true about it, when I hold that picture up to a lot of the teenagers that I know.

"It's just a little slice of life, and of course it's over-the-top and it's a total caricature. But . . . it's not a pamphlet that I'm handing out to teenagers to tell them how to live."

Thanks to YouTube and the internet the video is still getting seen widely. Plus the controversy has ironically given Palmer's album the attention it otherwise might not have received.

Fans, of course, are rushing to her defence, and that's the typical kind of response Palmer arouses.

When she was criticised for her slightly round tummy in the film clip to the song Leeds United, fans rushed to post pictures of their own imperfect bellies on her website. The reaction was dubbed the Rebellyon.

Despite her love of dress-ups, there's something encouragingly natural about Amanda Palmer. She may pluck her eyebrows into needle-point but she still lets her armpit hair grow.

And (WARNING: occasiona outbreaks of potty mouth) her blog, which she updates regularly, is filled with plenty of personal detail.

Keeping up with her fans is an integral part of the Amanda Palmer experience.

"I think it's essential," she says.

Amanda Palmer performs at the Tivoli on March 1. Who Killed Amanda Palmer? is out through Roadrunner Records.