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Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra 

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Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra perform at Bard’s Fisher Center on September 5 and 6.

Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra perform at Bard’s Fisher Center on September 5 and 6.

She has, in the past, simply referred to herself as Amanda Fucking Palmer. But these days, the daring solo artist and half of the underground, alternative rock/punk/dark cabaret band Dresden Dolls is billed as Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra. It’s her new musical love affair, and she is stripped raw and relentless.

The gritty rock ensemble launches a 35-date international tour this month to promote a new record, Theatre Is Evil (due out September 11), which is touted as a dauntless album that will surprise even Palmer’s most ardent admirers. It is heavily influenced by the sounds and rhythms Palmer grew up listening to—’80s synth rock and Brit pop, with vocals reminiscent of what might come from Aimee Mann’s most frayed nerves. It was written over the several years since the release of her last studio album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer. “The Killing Type,” an early release off Theatre Is Evil, is a brutal love song with wigged-out vocal delivery, and “Do It with a Rockstar” is a driving pop anthem more than fitting for a fresh rock musical. Palmer exposes a more vulnerable side in the heartbreaking ballad “Trout Heart Replica” and the melancholy breakup tale of “The Bed Song.” Highly recommended is the halt-and-pound “Want It Back,” which has a mesmerizing, uncensored video that can be found on YouTube. Palmer’s Kickstarter project to fund the album’s release is the largest music-related Kickstarter in history—25,000 fans pledged more than $1.1 million.

Keyboardist and uke player Palmer and her adventurous musical cronies are now using new interactive technologies for their live shows which, somehow, “crowd source” audience members’ voices and bodies directly into the show, along with photos and other personal artifacts. Producer, theater director, and drummer Michael McQuilken is a bit elusive in his explanation of this, though he defines Palmer’s hyperinclusive relationship with her audiences as “family.” “I’ve been working on ways to make the fans the primary motivation for production decisions,” he says. “Each new audience will have an experience unique to them. You’ll have to come to the show to find out more.”

Palmer herself describes the show as Rocky Horror Picture Show meets scavenger hunt meets interactive art happening. “Everyone in the band has a superpower on stage,” says Palmer. “Our drummer is the director, our guitarist is the sound designer and horn arranger, and our bassist is the classical conductor. We’re all theater geeks, so the whole band is like a massive transformer robot that can be a slamming rock band, and also can be an emotional avant-garde musical.”

Before heading off for that world tour, Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra will kick off Bard’s autumn season of music, dance, and theater at Fisher Center on September 5 and 6 at 7:30 pm. Palmer is the inaugural visiting artist of Live Arts Bard, the college’s new commissioning and residency program for the performing arts. Bard student bands will open the concerts, and Palmer, a resident for three weeks, will work with students during her band rehearsals and a music video shoot. She will return to Bard next spring for an acoustic concert with her husband, author Neil Gaiman, and again in fall 2013, to develop a new musical with students in Bard’s Theater and Performance Program. (845) 758-7900; Amandapalmer.net.

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