2009 was a busy year for Amanda Palmer. The singer/musician, best known as the female half of Boston duo The Dresden Dolls, continued the upward trajectory of her solo career with performances around the world, including appearances in Singapore and at the annual Coachella Festival in California.
And on Thursday, Palmer, a Boston resident herself, will close out the year by joining the Boston Pops for their traditional New Year’s Eve performance at Symphony Hall.
During a chat with Blast before a performance in Brooklyn last month â€” despite nursing frayed nerves after she and her boyfriend, author Neil Gaiman, had gotten into a fender-bender en route to the venue â€” Palmer was visibly enthused about the New Year’s concert.
It may seem an odd pairing. To say that Palmer, 33, an avid Tweeter who often dons black lacy bras (and little else) onstage, typically performs to a younger, more freethinking audience than the Pops are used to would be an understatement.
"People who are looking for a traditional Boston Pops new year’s concert should probably look elsewhere," Pops conductor Keith Lockhart cautioned in a podcast last week.
But it’s not the first time the musicians have teamed up. Palmer and the Pops first played together at Boston’s EdgeFest in the summer of 2008, a performance that preceded the release of her debut solo effort, "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?", later that year. Thursday’s performance, according to Palmer, will feature rehashes of some of the arrangements they worked on at EdgeFest, as well as some "surprises." (Her Twitter feed reveals that she’s been practicing Tchaikovsky extensively.)
Growing up in Lexington, Palmer said, her earliest musical memories came equally from listening to her parents’ copy of "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" ("I would just sit there with headphones on, and I would flip the record again and again and again") and from performing in her church choir in elementary school.
"Even though you’re in church, it’s a kind of performance. You know, you put on a costume and you get up there," she said with a laugh. "I don’t remember much specifically about the pieces, but I do think that had an impact on me."
An early memory of Symphony Hall stands out as well.
"The first time I went to Symphony Hall was on a class field trip in elementary school," she recalled. "I must have been in second grade. The opulence was exciting, but I found it impossible to sit still, as did the vast majority of my classmates. Getting average eight-year-olds to pay attention to classical music for an hour is about as easy as getting cats to willingly bathe."
Nowadays, Palmer incorporates classical elements into her songs, but clearly has no trouble getting people to pay attention. She characterizes her music, both solo and with the Dresden Dolls, as "punk cabaret.”
"The punk part has more to do with the chops and attitude," she explained. "I don’t practice. I’m not a â€˜good’ piano player in the classical sense. But neither was Thelonious Monk or John Lennon. Fuck it. I work from a base drive of energy, not skill. That is punk. Cabaret gets loaded on top of that because of my connection with theater. And fishnet. I suppose."
Operating with a tireless, DIY work ethic that likely has its roots in her days as a "living statue" street performer in Cambridge, Palmer often uses her Twitter feed to connect with fans and other artists, and sometimes even to find places to crash after a performance.
"I look at it this way," she said. "As a musician, ask yourself the question, why are you doing this? Are you doing it to, A, make money; B, become famous; or C, connect with people, or any other myriad reasons? â€¦ It’s random and sometimes wonderful and sometimes a pain in the ass, but it keeps life very lifelike, for sure. The one thing that can really destroy your sense of reality and sense of balance is touring and going from soulless space to soulless space. And so, staying with real people, even though you trade off your comfort, it’s really nice to connect with (them) and have a sense of reality."
As one of the first (and still most avid) musicians to use tools like Twitter and blogging to connect with fans, Palmer said it’s independent artists like herself who are actually benefiting from new trends that many others see as detrimental to the music industry.
"The problem with the world of rock ‘n’ roll and radio and pop is that, you know, the money was coming from very, very specific places," she noted. "Those specific places are going away, but I don’t think it has to change the fundamental drive of why people make music for each other. And in fact, the Internet makes it frighteningly easy for anyone to make music for anyone else. But of course, I mean, that just takes a fucking sledgehammer to the old model. I like it. But I also never got into this to get rich."
Amanda Palmer performs with the Pops at 8 p.m. on Dec. 31. For more information, visit http://www.bso.org/bso/mods/perf_detail.jsp?pid=prod3500019.
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