The Dresden Dolls – The Forum Melbourne – 8 January 2012

Tegan and I are continuing our post-kids tradition of getting to one big concert per year. Last year it was B.B. King. The year before was Emiliana Torrini. This year it was The Dresden Dolls, and what a year that makes it.

The Dresden Dolls are an amazing band that largely defy categorisation. Some friends have asked us, “we know they’re alternative, but what sort of music is it?” We don’t know how to answer – they are unlike any other band we know.

We’ve been fans back since 2004 but have never seen them before. Back in 2004 we were about to move house when they came to Australia (and they didn’t come to Canberra) so we missed them and had just never managed to see them since. The one time the lead singer, Amanda Palmer, came to Canberra was about a week before Isaac was born and as such we had other things occupying us at the time. This time around, which was a reunion tour for the Dresden Dolls, we knew we had to go. We almost didn’t make it though – they weren’t playing in Canberra, so we had to go to Sydney or Melbourne. The Melbourne gig coincided with a planned trip to visit family in Melbourne anyway, so that worked out. However, Isaac has been having so much trouble getting to sleep – often crying or screaming for several hours of an evening when we try to settle him – that we really didn’t feel that in good conscience we could leave him with family for an evening while we jaunted off to a concert. At the end of the day we overcame that aversion, went anyway and were extremely glad that we did.

We arrived at the theatre shortly after doors were due to open. The queue went past the theatre, around a corner, up the lane, around the next corner and another 10-20m down that street. And the outfits in the crowd were something to behold – people certainly dressed up for the occasion – quite a few painted faces in the Dresden Dolls’ style.

But the show:
Firstly, Tegan had the fortune of catching Amanda Palmer’s ‘ninja gig’ in the ladies bathroom, were she sang the Ukulele Song, about how the ukulele can make the world a better place. Tegan said that it was fantastic – she was just in there washing her hands and Amanda walked in right by her for the ninja gig.

The Dresden Dolls came on stage to introduce each of the support acts or, in the words of the billing, ‘Special guests’. And they really did seem like special guests – both Melbourne bands, but both obviously knew Amanda Palmer well beforehand – one band talked about writing a song in her apartment in the US. The first, the Jane Austen Argument, were good but – for me – nothing special. Tegan enjoyed them more.

The second, the Bedroom Philosopher, was fantastic. Mostly he was hilarious – I’d pay to see him again on his own – I’ll have to keep an eye out to see if ever comes to a comedy event or the like in Canberra. Amanda Palmer appeared on stage with both bands too, which was a very cool touch. This is a video that someone else took of him playing while Amanda came on stage with him.

But to the main attraction – the Dresden Dolls.


They have so much energy and are such good performers.

They take one side of the stage each – Amanda with her keyboard on the left and Brian on the drums on the right. But the interplay between them is fantastic too. There were a few moments where Brian would do something ridiculous in the middle of a song to make Amanda laugh, which actually added a really cool touch to the gig. It’s obvious they were having fun too and it wasn’t just a stale and boring touring experience.

In one way the whole thing was a highlight – such a buzz of a night – but some of the more fantastic moments included:

  • They brought the support bands and pretty much everyone else involved in the tour on tags with them for, in their words, ‘an American folk classic’ – Fight for Your Right to Party by the Beastie Boys. Brian took centre stage on guitar while Amanda played drums on this one. It was hilarious and ultra-cool – very rock ‘n’ roll – all at the same time.
  • They played our favourite songs from their first (and best) album, including Girl Anachronism, Coin Operated Boy, Missed Me and Half Jack. If they had also played The Jeep Song, I would have rated it a perfect concert.
  • They covered The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave. They said they wanted to cover a song by their favourite Australian singer-songwriter but had always between too intimidated. I immediately knew they were talking Nick Cave and was hoping they would not cover the Ship Song, as many others do. I was not disappointed.
  • For the first encore they covered War Pigs by Black Sabbath. Awesome. This was after they had done a more operatic little interlude with Amanda coming back in half-way down the theatre with Brian ‘serenading’ her from the stage, followed by her crowd-surfing back to the stage. Very cool and funny too.
  • The second encore: just Sing from their second album. It was a perfect way to finish.

While this might capture some of the great moments, none of it captures the pure energy and entertainment that they demonstrated. They were such amazing performers – Amanda has so much energy and great rapport with the crowd and Brian really hammed it up all the way through. They are not just a band – they are an act. Some of their energy and the act is captured in the photos I took (we were fortunate to have a good spot near the front and I took my big DSLR with me) but even they don’t really capture it. I really want to see them again.

Steve Jobs

I got back to my desk at about midday on Thursday after a meeting, looked at the news online and saw that Steve Jobs had died. It made me sad. But I’m still not really sure why I’m sad, and why I’m even still a bit sad now a couple of days later.

Yes, I’m a fan of Apple’s products and have been ever since I bought my first iPod back in, I think, 2003 (although I might have been on my way to becoming a fan when I bought Tegan an iBook (which in those days was a laptop – not an ebook) in December 2002). But at the end of the day they’re just tools and gadgets that enable the things I want to do or make them easier. I don’t think I have a particular emotional attachment to my Apple gadgets. When an iPod or laptop has died (usually after extensive service) I’ve been disappointed because it meant I needed to spend money to buy a new one, but that was it. And my fondness for Apple gadgets isn’t intrinsically linked to the CEO and founder of the company that made them. In fact, I was never very impressed with what I heard about Steve Jobs as a person – based on the old stories about how he had for years denied the paternity of his first daughter or how he had scammed his friend out of what should have been his rightful share of the proceeds from creating a game for Atari. Basically, I had the impression that he wasn’t a particularly nice person.

The sense of sadness and loss I feel confuses me. One could put it down to the old John Donne line – ‘any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind’, but I don’t think that’s it either – plenty of people die about whom I don’t feel sad. Maybe I’m just tired and feeling a bit fragile – and there is some truth to that, although it doesn’t explain the full thing either. I think what it is, for good or ill, is that I’ve developed a significant respect for Steve Jobs over the last few years and that the sense of loss is because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about his views and actions. There is an attachment for me because he is someone I have engaged with, albeit vicariously.

At one level, this is because of my attachment to Apple’s products. I have started typing this on an iPad, which is connected to the Internet via a personal hotspot on my iPhone, and I will include an image I edited and stored on my iMac. Later today I will watch a video that will be streamed from my iMac and displayed on my tv via an AppleTV. I will do more work typing this up using Tegan’s Macbook Pro while sitting on my couch watching the Rugby World Cup. The more I have read about Apple, the clearer it has become that the connectedness of all these gadgets – the way they work together almost effortlessly and the way they enable me to do all these things – the beauty of their design in both looks and usability – it was Steve Jobs that drove this. He was the visionary who saw the possibilities and pushed people to make them happen, not to mention structuring a business and manufacturing supply chains to put them in my hands at prices I can afford (albeit, that I can afford only because of my comfortable middle class job and lifestyle).

I’m also very interested in the reports about what Steve Jobs was like as a manager. Having worked for detail-obsessed micro-managers, it’s typically a frustrating experience, yet that was something that Steve Jobs was lauded for. Perhaps there’s message there that it’s good to micro-manage details, as long as you pick the right ones to manage and as long as you can actually contribute and make your product or whatever better by doing so. Personally, looking at the possibilities of being a senior manager in my field in the not too, too distant future there are obviously useful lessons to be learned from watching one of the stand out entrpreneurs and managers of my lifetime.

The other aspect of the sadness, I’m sure, is because I’m a Christian and Steve Jobs wasn’t. Since his death, his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 has been quoted many times. It included the following line:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

I find this so sad – it’s close to the truth, but wrong enough to be very, very sad and disappointing. Death is not the greatest invention of life. Death is wrong. As he said, despite eagerly awaiting eternal life I don’t seek death now and I do enjoy my life. But in contrast I think that Jesus’ victory over death is the greatest thing ever and I more eagerly look forward to a day where there will be no more death and no more suffering:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:2-4

But in the meantime, I appreciate Steve Jobs as visionary and I can internally mourn for someone who had such big, good and intelligent ideas and who appreciated the bigger picture, but just had it so tragically wrong.

Anastasia ‘reading’ Puff the magic Dragon

Progress in May 2011

Wow. What a difference a good day makes.

We had a particularly good day on a Wednesday a couple of weeks ago – the best day we have had for so long. Isaac had next to no colic, we relaxed, Anastasia had fun with animals, we ate delicious seafood, everybody slept well, we got to watch a whole movie in one go. It made us feel fantastic. In fact, despite a number of significant crying episodes since it felt as though we turned a bit of a corner on that day. Wednesday, 18 May 2011. It’s a date for us to remember in perpetuity.

What made this day so great?

  1. Bateman’s Bay
  2. To begin, we were staying at Bateman’s Bay in a very nice little holiday apartment at a place called Parker By The Sea. I would heartily recommend this place – the apartments were gorgeous, modern and well kitted out. The kitchen was fantastic. The bedrooms were nice and large. The whole place just had a great feel to it. Our apartment had the master bedroom downstairs, where we slept with Isaac, and two bedrooms upstairs – one with a queen bed and one with twin singles. We let Anastasia choose which one she would sleep in and she chose the queen bed. She looked so small sleeping in the middle of this enormous bed but she loved it. She slept more soundly there even than she would normally at home.

  3. Birdland Animal Park
  4. Not the famous jazz club, or I might have gone as well. As it was, I stayed home and read books while the girls went to the animal park, which is part wildlife vet, part tourist attraction.

    Anastasia had a ball – she patted wombats, looked at wallabies and even had a snake draped around her. In fact, she enjoyed the snake so much she went back to it and had it placed on her several times.

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

    At Birdland Animal Park, Bateman's Bay

  5. No colic
    Aside from one session of crying for about half an hour or less when they were arriving at the animal park, Isaac had basically no colic all day. In fact, during the afternoon he was particularly delightful – smiling and gurgling at us.

  6. Excellent seafood
  7. Thanks to a most excellent tip received from our friend Bianca the last time we were in Bateman’s Bay, we returned to the 3 Fish Cafe in the main street of Bateman’s Bay. An absolutely delicious mixed seafood grill consumed while sitting in a little park looking out over the water. A pretty much perfect lunch.

  8. Anastasia slept for at least 3.5 hours during the day
  9. That pretty much explains itself.

  10. Free time and good sleep
  11. Because Anastasia slept so well during the day and because Isaac had a good day, Tegan and I had lots of free time. We got to read books, watch Masterchef and even watch a movie (Mao’s Last Dancer – we liked it) after Anastasia went to bed. And then everyone, including us, slept well overnight. It was glorious.

  12. Did I mention, no colic
  13. It was just so good.

Dickson Wetlands Planting Day

Very kindly, the ACT Government is providing us with some great new amenities and improving the view from our house (and probably increasing our property value) by building wetlands across the road from us. Today they invited members of the community along to help plant trees and plants, so we went along to help out and have a look – primarily as a bit of a fun activity for Anastasia. It was quite a nice little trip out just before lunchtime and we had a good time checking out the wetlands development, planting some trees and catching up with friends and neighbours.

Construction has been going on for a number of months and seems to have almost finished. Hopefully this means that soon our house and car will stop being coated in red dust on a daily basis and that the smell of fertiliser and manure will fade. More seriously, it looks like it will be a great and fun place for Anastasia (and eventually Isaac) to explore and the concrete paths look like a perfect surface for trikes and small bikes.

See more info about the Wetlands on their official page here or on their Facebook page here.