Blocks away, a million people have been standing in the freezing cold all day, waiting for Dick Clark to utter the word “one.” Inside Manhattan Center’s Grand Ballroom, a few thousand await a comparatively intimate and decidedly different experience. It’s New Year’s Eve, 2008 and the Dresden Dolls are playing a sold-out show. The quasi-cabaret duo has drawn their usual crowd which, much like the group’s music, defies singular genre or category. The room is filled with powder-faced twenty somethings dressed in gothic evening attire, club kids in silver body paint, roving bands of over-the-hill lesbians, and otherwise nondescript music-loving New Yorkers.

The Dresden Dolls (Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione), whose music lies at the confluence of punk, glam, cabaret, and rock describe themselves as “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”. The live expression of exactly what Brechtian Punk Cabaret is, should not to be missed. Despite falling ill days earlier, Palmer’s vocals proved dramatic and powerful throughout the majority of the band’s grueling two hour set. Through alternating swigs of bottled water and Captain Morgan, Palmer sang a no-holds-barred set of scintillating rants and aching confessions. The sentiments of each song were mirrored in her devilish laughter as well as her uncomfortable and often jarring contortions. Drawing from both A Is for Accident and Yes, Virginia…, Palmer’s performance swung wildly between states of agony and therapy. Both were equally captivating.

Let’s not forget the drummer. Brian Viglione is one of the most dynamic performers I have ever seen. Switching between visceral waves of percussion and puppet-like theatrical expressions that would put Howdy Doody out of a job, Viglione set the bar for musical showmanship and technical endurance. Beginning with a guest performance with Brooklyn openers Luminescent Orchestrii, Viglione performed feverishly to within minutes of the show’s 1:30am curfew. From start to finish, his drum lines provided the perfect foundation for Palmer’s keyboard while his exaggerated facial expressions and larger than life physicality proved a primary source of charisma for the duo’s incredible live show.

Performances of “Coin-Operated Boy” and a cover of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” were personal highlights of the night. Even if there is no New Year’s Eve countdown, the Dresden Dolls are not to be missed.

Upcoming Dresden Dolls’ Shows:

01.03.2008 Montreal, Qu – Le National
01.04.2008 Toronto, On – The Phoenix Concert Theatre
01.05.2008 Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre / The Vic
01.06.2008 St. Louis, MO – The Pageant
01.08.2008 Birmingham, AL – WorkPlay Theatre
01.10.2008 Tampa, FL – Tampa Theatre
01.11.2008 Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
01.12.2008 Durham, NC – Carolina Theatre
01.13.2008 Norfolk, VA – The NorVa


When the time to sort out New Year’s Eve, 2008 plans came, I debated as to whether or not I actually wanted to have a camera in my hands at the stroke of midnight. I think, as many concert photographers will agree, that I enjoy the music less when I’m shooting a show as opposed to just being a memeber of the audience. Knowing that the Dreden Dolls are amazing on stage, I went ahead and bought tickets. It wasn’t until the day of the show that I decided to arrange credentials.

As I was leaving for dinner, the band’s publicist called to tell me that she found out that there wouldn’t be photo pit. This was bad news. I had friends in town and dinner plans and had neither the ability to, or the intention of, going to the venue early to secure a spot at the front of the stage. I arrived just before the opening act to find the venue floor completely packed. With no hope of shooting from the crowd, I opted to shoot from the balconies on either side of the stage.


The lighting for this set was feast or famine. Both Amanda and Brian performed in lighting that alternated between periods of near darkness and intense light. Brian in particular was lit by bursts of intense white light spots that accentuated his dramatic performance style. The sudden strength of the light made judging proper exposure difficult.


The extreme lighting changes of this shoot called for a huge range of manual settings that pushed my EOS-1D Mark III and my fingers to their limits. Exposure when the lights were low demanded ISO 6400 at 1/60 and f/2.8. When the lights came up, I would spin the dials frantically to ISO 800 at 1/200 and an astonishing f/4.0. White balance remained on auto for the entire set. In hindsight I should have used the camera’s auto exposure bracketing function to help manage overexposure.


The 70-200mm f/2.8L proved perfect for shooting from the Grand Ballroom’s balconies. Though I could have used a slightly longer reach at times, the 70mm end of the lens proved perfect for a few wider shots of both Brian and Amanda.

End Notes

I would like to take a moment to give my sincere thanks to Anabel. Without your help, advice and general wonderfulness, this shoot would not have been possible. You are AWESOME.

  1. By far my favorite show yet. I love this band and they’re just SO fun to shoot!

  2. chris

    Yeah, they totally rocked that show. Kudos to Amanda for playing her heart out even though she was sick.

  3. wow! really great photos!!! -sxip Luminescent Orchestrii

  4. chris

    Thanks Sxip! Though my vantage point wasn’t idea for your set, I did take a few photos of you that I’ll post in the coming days. Stay tuned!


  5. Beautiful set!

  6. chris

    Merci Beaucoup Alain!

  7. Nice set, especially considering the restriction to shooting positions. I think you’re right, the mobility made all the difference in getting a nice variety of images.

    I’m glad to see that second shot of Brian made it into the updated portfolio as well, which itself is looking very good.

  8. PS: I linked up this set on my write-up.

  9. awesome photos I was there and you captured the scene.

  10. chris

    Thanks George. It was an amazing show. One of my favorites ever.

  11. wow man, these are some killer shots considering the location you were in. it kinda makes me realise how limiting the pit can be sometimes. one of the best moments ever captured i’ve ever seen in rock music was taken by some kid in the crowd.

  12. chris

    Thanks lucky, this show was an absolute blast. The shooting location turned out to be a good thing because I could move around.

  13. cool thanks for writing this