Dresden Dolls, Madame Jo Jo, London<br></br>22-20s, Notting Hill Arts Club, London<br></br>Avenue D, Torture Garden, London

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome, kiddywinks!
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The Independent Culture

The most cherishable arrivals in modern music are always the most unexpected. Nobody could have predicted that in a year like this - when every new band must fit into a territorially-defined, aggressively-marketed genre, and the ever-decreasing spiral of retro revivalism is resembling a tailspin - that a band as genuinely original and unique as The Dresden Dolls would fly in through a carelessly-ajar window.

The Dresden Dolls are a duo from Boston, Massachusetts whose primary influence is Weimar cabaret. Not as some knowingly-kitsch conceptual gag, but as a dramatic context for eloquent, passionate and darkly witty songs of obsession, jealousy and insanity ("You can tell from the scars on my arms and the cracks in my hips and the dents in my car and the blisters on my lips that I'm not the carefullest of girls...")

Singer-pianist Amanda Palmer looks like a rag doll tossed nonchalantly into the corner of the room, landed askew on a piano stool. Her extraordinary voice recalls the Nico of "All Tomorrow's Parties", the Garbo of "Falling In Love Again", the Faithfull of "Broken English". Beyond Ben Folds Five, the recent history of the piano as a fundamental instrument in rock, rather than a prettifying accessory, is sparse, but with songs like the swirling, deliriously physical "Girl Anachronism", Palmer is set to banish all thoughts of Keane (and, against all my instincts, I rather like Keane).

In his bowler hat and greasepaint, drummer Brian Viglione is half Little Alex from A Clockwork Orange, half a nightmarish Marcel Marceau mime act. Unusually, he plays his drums "musically", as opposed to rhythmically (tellingly, he grew up on jazz and classical, not rock).

Together, what they create is compelling, bewitching, and almost unprecedented. There are hints of Kate Bush, Goldfrapp and Marilyn Manson (if he'd had the balls to go all the way with the Weimar vibe on Golden Age Of Grotesque, rather than hedging his bets with lashings of kid-friendly nu metal), but only faint ones.

Furthermore, they're superb, almost telepathic musicians (the skipped-CD trick they pull, during "Coin-Operated Boy", has to be seen to be believed), and their reinvention of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" is inspired.

This, their first UK show, is a tiny beginning, but every person here is either a star (Har Mar, The Darkness) or a seed, an emissary from a scene or a subculture who will go back and spread the word. Something special starts here.

It's put-up or shut-up time for the 22-20s. At the cusp of 2002/3, these Lincoln longhairs were the subject of a buzz louder than thunder - the shorthand version of the hype was "a British White Stripes" - and, when they played their first London gig at the Dublin Castle, urban myths were born about record company A&R personnel fighting each other on the Parkway pavement to pay touts £150 for tickets.

EMI fought hardest and/or waved the biggest cheque, and signed the band to Parlophone. Since then, it's gone awfully quiet. A handful of politely-received singles, a few low-key tours with other bands, and finally - 18 months later, when the garage rock bubble has truly burst - they're ready to deliver their debut album, and must now promote it in the traditional way: modestly pimping their wares around the gig circuit and hoping that anyone still cares enough to bite.

The rude-elbowed, bray-voiced denizens of West London evidently do, crammed into Alan McGee's Death Disco night to see the trio (now enlarged to a quartet with Charly Coombs on cool, Manzarek-ish keyboards). And to a degree, the source of the fuss is evident. Singer guitarist Martin Trimble knows how to play what Jack Black in School Of Rock would call a "facemelter", and Glen Bartup (bass) and James Irving (drums) can knock out a badass rhythm. But I find myself wondering why such young men want to make such hoary, grizzled old music, this roadhouse blues (a cooler, more American way of saying "pub rock").

"It's great to be able to play some blues again," says Trimble in a surprisingly posh, oddly antiquated voice, as though he's channeling Marc Bolan, like there's been a United Nations moratorium on anything with a three-chord, 12-bar structure. In 2002, I can see why there was a scramble to get their hands on a band like this, 100 per cent. But in 2004? It's 50-50.

Avenue D are too much for some to handle. Earlier on, up at Queens Of Noize, the dirty disco duo had left the indie dregs of Camden Town nonplussed. But later that night, down at Torture Garden, Britain's foremost fetish event, Daphne And Debbie - self-styled streetwalking latina trash from New York City - are in their element.

I had feared you'd be sneered at unless you came to Torture Garden as The Gimp from Pulp Fiction - and to be fair, there are two or three of them walking around - but I've never been to a club with such a welcoming, liberating, anything-goes atmosphere. It sure beats leaning against the wall supping Stella and listening to Razorlight.

The sex-obsessed, pottymouthed twosome rise to the occasion, shaking their pinstriped Daisy Duke hotpants to their pre-recorded electro-sleaze beats and wiggling their bras made of plastic lion heads held together by string, bawling lines like "shit, my stylist is on a budget, she's just trying to save some fabric!" ("Do I Look Like A Slut?").

Do they kiss their mothers with those mouths?