Amanda Palmer is not a typical Lexington High School graduate. She’s not a typical 32-year-old. She’s not a typical guest performer with the Boston Pops. In fact, Amanda Palmer is not a typical anything.
Amanda Palmer is not a typical Lexington High School graduate. She’s not a typical 32-year-old. She’s not a typical guest performer with the Boston Pops.In fact, Amanda Palmer is not a typical anything.
“How would I describe the band’s music to the people of Lexington?” she said in a recent telephone interview from Paris. “I guess I would call it ‘surprisingly accessible theatrical rock music.’”
That’s as good a description as any for the music of the Dresden Dolls, of which Palmer is one half, and part of the reason she was asked to play with the Boston Pops as part of their Edge Fest series last week.
Her songs, and those of the Dresden Dolls, are “chameleon-like,” she said. “They can somewhat adapt to all different settings.”
Palmer performed with the Pops and conductor Keith Lockhart at Symphony Hall June 19 and 20. The sets ranged from Dresden Doll classics like “Coin-Operated Boy” to songs from her upcoming solo album to a cover of Ben Folds’ “Brick,” but every song she clearly made her own.
The experience was a dream realized for Palmer. When she is not touring the world with the Dresden Dolls, she lives about four blocks from Symphony Hall.
“When the band first got together about eight years ago, I thought, ‘Ah, someday we will climb our way out of the Lizard Lounge and into Symphony Hall,’” she said.
She has toured extensively and played in locales grand and dingy all over the country, and said she rarely is nervous before a performance. But the Pops were a different story.
“I was shaking through the first couple of songs both nights,” she said. “I thought, it almost doesn’t get any better than this. I’d better enjoy it while I can.”
Palmer played to a nearly sold-out and very eclectic crowd. Season ticket holders for the Pops may not have known what to expect, and she took that into consideration with her set choice.
“I didn’t want to pound them over the head with the angst that is so often a part of a Dresden Dolls set,” she laughed. “I wanted it to be very warm and entertaining so we wouldn’t scare people away.”
But there was another group to consider in the Dresden Dolls fans who turned up, as Palmer requested, “dressed for the occasion.” Rarely have so many prom dresses been seen post-high school.
They, too, seemed to enjoy the show, though the usual enthusiastic responses to the performance were a bit muted. After all, it’s still Symphony Hall.
At the close of the show both nights, Palmer brought her family onstage. Her parents, still residents of Lexington, and other members “made a real effort to get there from wherever they were.” There was a sense that “we can all die happy now,” she said.
Palmer’s journey to Symphony Hall began more than 14 years ago, then a senior at Lexington High School. The teachers there made such an impression that she has returned to the school several times in her career.
She and co-Dresden Doll Brian Viglione have played several benefits there, she spoke to a history class “about what it’s like to be a rock star,” and three of the six music videos for her upcoming solo album are set in the school.
“I have a great many things to thank Lexington for,” she said, “mostly my high school teachers, a handful of whom were my life’s most important mentors.”
She was “quadruply blessed” by her teachers, especially drama teacher Steve Bogart.
“Most people are lucky to get one teacher like that in their life, and I had several. They really cared about me as a person, about who I was and who I wanted to be.”
Palmer said she “can’t emphasize enough how important that was, for a high school student to have teachers like that, to be given that sandbox to explore in.”
If children do not have teachers or other adults in their lives who inspire them and given them creative outlets, she said, they “just shut down.”
She remains in contact with the teachers who started her musical education. She and Bogart have planned for years to produce an original musical theater piece with the drama students, and it looks like they will finally have time do it. Palmer said she expects the show will go up in the spring of next year.
“It’s more than inspiration; it’s a fertile ground that I return to,” she said. “I love the energy of the kids. [Bogart] is an intense director, and he brings out in them a passionate emotion. We have a beautiful connection through that.”
Still, Palmer’s high school experience was not all lunch with theater teachers and exposure to new and unusual music.
“There were cons as well as pros,” she said. “But they do say, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Coincidentally, Palmer’s solo album, produced by Ben Folds, is due in stores on Sept. 16.
It’s called, “Who Killed Amanda Palmer?”