The Dandy Warhols With POW! At The Teragram Ballroom, Saturday December 2nd 2017
With the Dandy Warhols, it always seems to be about style, there’s not much physical action on stage, everyone stays more or less at the same spot during the entire set, but guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor stands tall behind his double mic, dominating the scene and singing with his sensual loud whisper, while guitarist Peter Holmström does his thing on the side, adorable keyboardist Zia McCabe shakes and moves her perfect body, and drummer Brent DeBoer follows with ease the mid-druggy mid-psychedelic flow of the tunes. My first exposure to the Dandies goes back more than a decade ago, when they played at the defunct Sunset Junction Fair in 2003. the next year, I saw Ondi Timoner’s film ‘DIG!’ which was documenting their friendship and rivalry with the other band, the infamous Brian Jonestown Massacre, but since that time, I can’t say I hadn’t been very attentive to their career. They have been around, Courtney Taylor-Taylor is 50 these days, but they have been doing it with style all along. Look at his high-cheek bones, look at Zia’s perfectly toned body, they still look good and they know it, and they get on stage at the sound of the Stones’ ‘Miss You’, although their music has little to do with this sweaty dancefloor.
But POW! was opening the night, a band which probably surprised everyone in the room by its unique sound, and a band which still challenges me at coming up with a satisfying description for their music, after seeing them for the third time. With their UFO submarine keyboard, their chainsaw guitar assaults and laser beam experimentation, they bring the word intriguing to the next level, with a music that honestly doesn’t sound like anything else out there. Guitarist/singer Byron Blum preaches like a madman announcing the end of the world above his distorted sound coming from pedal galore and strings grating against amps. Meanwhile, the keyboards, played by silver-haired pretty Melissa Blue and another bandmate, sound like the steam roller march of the cyborgs following the tempo of a steady drum beat. The result is truly unique, ratty and fuzzy, but also futuristic, with outbursts of energy and cyber-attack-like noises (they have a track called Cyberattack #3) which may have already happened in their native city, San Francisco. And now that I think about it, POW!’s music may well be a metaphor of what is happening in the high-tech city, technology invading our lives and the inexorable destruction of its original artsy spirit.
The Dandy Warhols were much more down to earth as they played mostly in a foggy atmosphere, while their vocal harmonies were barely piercing the heavy red smog at first. With songs like ‘Mohammed’, then ‘Crack Cocaine Ragger’, they covered their fuzzy buoyant style, with badass country and reverb-heavy riffs which were reactivating the psychedelia when it was finally slowing down. It was a fascinating scene, looking around and watching middle age men and women listening to the music with their eyes closed, as if they were re-experiencing some old drug adventure, before cheering up when the song was over.
The Dandy Warhols have recorded nine studio albums and they obviously have a lot of songs to pick from their catalogue, and brushing a long career in a few songs has never been easy, but they managed to please the crowd, for a second sold out night at the Teragram, with a diversity of songs going from the upbeat whipped gallop of ‘Get Off’ to the laziness of ‘STYGGO’ or ‘I Love You’, which seemed to only relay on Taylor-Taylor’s catchy ability to sing ‘do-do-do-do’ or ‘I Love you, I love you, I love you’ for a few good minutes. You don’t necessarily appreciate the Dandy Warhols for their lyrics — although there is always a certain disillusionment out there — but for their style and attitude, for the atmosphere and the psychedelic vortex of sounds that they create while stretching their songs.
Being independent artists is not easy, but they have certainly left their marks, if I have never been an avid Dandy Warhols listener, it’s impossible to ignore the hooky choruses of ‘The Last High’ or ‘We Used to be Friends’, sung with Taylor’s signature sexy whisper. But they also have a strong and fun country side, after the plaintive country Christmas song ‘The Gospel’, that ‘they had not done for a decade’ and the plain badass ‘the New Country’, the show went mellow with a giant sing-along during a slowed-down ‘Everyday Should be A Holiday’ before kicking in again especially during their hit ‘Godless’.
Even if he didn’t move much from behind his two microphones stands, Taylor had an undeniable stage presence and a semi-ironic rictus at the corner of the mouth you could just have guessed if the lighting had been brighter, and transpiring in his drawled vocals. Of course, the most effervescent one in the quartet was Zia, who had a wonderful rhythmical energy, as she managed to play keyboard and percussion at the same time from start to finish. Overall the ambiance got increasingly sweaty, as the music was booming with more or less (to me) familiar tunes, while often sounding glorious above its psychedelic shoegaze quality.
The four of them genuinely seemed to be having a great time, a refreshing attitude for a band which must have been playing hundreds of shows. They have survived a long time while walking with ability between mainstream success and underground indie recognition, but Courtney Taylor-Taylor is still standing tall under the red or blue spotlights and Zia is still shaking her tambourine, while admitting she can’t start a keyboard because ‘she has lost the manual’. Last year, they released their ninth studio album ‘Distortland’, a play of words on their hometown Portland, just as their moniker is a play on a famous pop artist, and the few songs of ‘Distortland’ they played sounded exactly like pure Dandy Warhols, not discernable from their usual sound. After 23 years, it either shows that a popular band may not be able to reinvent itself, or it proves that a band always goes home, with its own aesthetic.
Mohammed Country teaver
Crack Cocaine Ragger
I Love You
The Last High
Catcher in the Rye
Everyday Should be A Holiday 8
We Used to be Friends
The Last of the Outlaw Truckers