In the 1936 film My Man Godfrey, Alexander Bullock says, “All you need to start an asylum is an empty room and the right kind of people.” The Dandy Warhols are those kind of people, that is if you substitute “party” for “asylum.”
Since 1994 The Dandys have produced scads of great psychedelic, Britpop-influenced songs, many of which I suspect would sound even better on drugs. Which are great so long so you don’t ABUSE them like my old friend Alex, who one X-Mas Eve found herself sitting at a very, very, very long red light. Finally a cop pulled up beside her and asked, “Why aren’t you moving?” She replied, “The light’s red.” The cop gave her the kind of disgusted look usually reserved for human turds on the sidewalk and said, “That’s not a red light. It’s a Christmas tree.”
Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Altamont-inspired Punch Marty Balin in the Mouth Day (yes it’s a for real holiday, I know because I invented it): every day is a holiday with The Dandy Warhols around. Why, I’ve even been known to play The Dandy Warhols on Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash Day–that’s October 20 for you heathens–the most important holy day on my religious calendar, which I usually reserve for listening to St. Ronnie and Company. But sometimes I simply have to hear a cranking wonderful tune like The Dandys’ “Down Like Disco,” and if Ronnie Van Zant has a problem with that, well, he’s dead.
To paraphrase Lite in 1984’s Repo Man, I wish I could say “I was into The Dandy Warhols before anyone. Wanted me to be their manager. I called bullshit on that. Managing a pop group is no job for a man.” But the truth is I dismissed The Dandy Warhols as a shallow hype when they first appeared. I hated their name, I hated “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” and “Bohemian Like You,” and I was convinced they were a flash in the proverbial pop pan. The Dandys reminded me of Oscar Wilde’s quip, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” And six months is about how much time I gave them.
Then I heard the positively hypnotic “Boys Better” and saw Dig!, the movie about the love/hate relationship between The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre (the Dandys’ evil twin) that gave us Anton Newcombe’s immortal words, “You fucking broke my sitar, motherfucker!” And presto! Instant Dandy conversion moment. I’ve been a fan ever since. How could anyone not be? Why, you’d have to be some kind of godless commie like my lovely second ex-wife, who grew up in East Germany where everything was made of slabs of thick grey concrete including the umbrellas, and a typical phys ed class involved hurling dud hand grenades (no kidding) to prepare for the coming American invasion. (Actually, I wish we’d thrown hand grenades in phys ed; all we ever did was play fucking crab soccer.) Small wonder the ex- hates The Dandy Warhols but loves Taylor Swift; she’s the Manchurian Candidate, sent to help popularize crappy music and hence bring our great nation to its knees.
I’ll be the first to admit it: The Dandy Warhols, who include the redundantly named Courtney Taylor-Taylor-Taylor (oops, delete one of those Taylors) on vocals and guitar, Peter Holmström on guitar, Zia McCabe on keyboards, and Brent DeBoer on drums, have their fair share of clunkers. But then again I’ve always thought of them as a singles band rather than an albums band. You simply learn to pick and choose your favorites, the same way you do when you’re shoplifting steak.
Some of my favorites include those two great stoner anthems “Smoke It” and “Lou Weed,” which I wish had been around during my gang-a-bong days. And “Horse Pills,” which reminds me of the giant green Placidyl 750s my pig farmer pal Bill Harrison and I used to take whenever we wanted the whole world to go 3 mph. And “Love Is the New Feel Awful,” which starts out nice and wonderful and then gets all weird and wrong, just like real love. Then there’s the beautiful “Good Morning,” which I love despite the fact that I’ve never had a good morning–dawns are the inordinately steep price we pay for being alive–in my life. And the mesmeric “Godless,” which will send you into a trance faster than a svengali with a golden scarab superglued to his forehead. And let’s not forget “Holding Me Up,” which may just be the coolest groove of a song to come our way since, well, The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Fuck the Dandy Warhols anthem “Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth.”
I’m usually a big lyrics guy, but I don’t really pay much attention to The Dandy Warhols’ words, in part because they’re not so great, although I’ve always loved the lines in “Smoke It” that go, “I registered to vote so I could abstain my exemption/Ah man I thought LAUNDRY was the fifth dimension” even though I haven’t the foggiest idea what they mean. The same goes for the lyrics, “So let’s get a big round of applause/Big round of applause/To brothers and sisters, brother’s mothers, sister’s other mothers/Other brother’s sister’s mothers anyone/Anyone who’s here yeah.” But more importantly, I always get so caught up in that groovetacular Dandys flow that I can’t be bothered to pay much attention to the words. In this respect they’re a lot like Foghat, except they’re not: I only mention Foghat because my buddy Joe Aronstamn–D.C.’s rock star (Holly Rollers) turned private detective–tells me my rock references are dated and I want to prove him right.
The Dandy Warhol’s latest LP, 2012’s This Machine, has never really grown on me, but no matter; they’re not touring to support it. Instead they’re doing the currently de rigueur “play a classic album in its entirety” shtick, and in the Dandy’s case the album is 2000’s Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. It’s not my fave–I’d much sooner hear 1997’s …The Dandy Warhols Come Down–but despite my 450 urgent phone calls to the band they refused to be swayed, the prima donnas. That said, Thirteen Tales has its share of excellent tunes, including “Godless,” “Nietzsche,” “Big Indian,” “Shakin’,” “Horse Pills,” and “Get Off,” so I’m not going to whine and pout too much, that is until they play “Country Leaver,” which if I want to hear a goddamn country song I’ll listen to The Meat Puppets deranged “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds,” thank you very much.
Anyway, The Dandy Warhols played the 9:30 Club on Wednesday, May 29, and I missed the opening act due to forces beyond my control: namely, there was a special on The Yodeling Channel (isn’t cable fantastic?) on Yodel Rock. And being a big Yodel Rock aficionado and amateur yodeler no way was I going to miss it. So let’s put on our lederhosen and sing some “Hocus Pocus” by Focus, shall we? “Ôi orôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi ohrorô poPÔ/Yôi orôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi rôrôrôi ohrorô/BoumPÔ!” Isn’t this fun?
I made it to the 9:30 Club just in time to see the Dandy Warhols play two sets: the first, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, and the second, a random selection of songs from their career. Both were tremendous. They had two extra musicians–a trumpeter/electronics guy and a guitarist–on stage to fill out their sound, and immediately went into the monstrous droning noise that marks the beginning of “Godless,” which featured some cool trumpet solos, a bottomless groove, and stopped in the middle only to start all over again. The Dandys then went into “Mohammed,” which opened with some Middle Eastern-flavored sound samples before kicking into a giant groove that would sound simply divine coming from a minaret. “Nietzsche” opened with some heavy metal thunder and lots of intimidating synth static and featured hushed vocals, big fuzzy guitar riffs, and some really impressive drum bash. “Country Leaver” was, well, “Country Leaver,” and the most I can say about it was that Zia McCabe plays a happening washboard.
“Solid” was a very likeable pop ditty, with Taylor-Taylor singing about how he he has a door in the back of his head where he dumps “out all the crap and just feel solid again” and the band providing great run amuck background vocals and was followed by “Horse Pills,” which opened with some titanic guitars and eight-car pileup drum pummel, then turned into a big righteous rocker that had the whole band shouting “Pills!” and McCabe interjecting, “Don’t worry about it baby!” before Taylor-Taylor went into a total guitar freakout.
“Get Off” was a very perky pop number, while “Sleep” was beautiful and slow and hypnotic and had Taylor-Taylor singing in a hush. “Cool Scene” was sixties-influenced and uptempo and featured a trumpet solo and a cool guitar riff that snaked through the song. The crowd went wild for “Bohemian Like You,” which boasted some really loud guitars (even McCabe had a guitar) which made me like the song a little more although I still (journalistic honesty trumps all but a free beer) don’t care for the lyrics very much. The Dandys then played “Shakin’,” a great simple ecstatic riff of a tune that evolved into a big jam, and followed it up with “Big Indian,” a more or less traditional rocker that is no less great for that fact. They then concluded their playing of Thirteen Tunes with album-closer “The Gospel,” a slow and doleful tune featuring sad vocals by Taylor-Taylor and a trumpet solo and that overall had a Velvet Underground meets Mahalia Jackson vibe to it.
They opened their second set with hushed, beautiful, and positively mesmeric “Good Morning,” which opened with a distorted guitar and ended with a wild and wooly guitar solo by Taylor-Taylor. The Dandys then played the hard-rockin’ “We Used to Be Friends,” which featured a cool electric piano riff by McCabe. They then went into “Holding Me Up,” one of my faves because it features the greatest keyboard-led groove in the world and just kept going and going before taking a slight detour, then the trumpet joined in and the Dandys went back to doing what they do best. It was at about this point in the evening that I met Molly and Courtney, a positively lovely mother and daughter team out to see mom’s favorite band. Mom told me that henceforth she would begin dressing more in all white as opposed to all black, because Taylor-Taylor was dressed in all white for the evening. As we talked The Dandy Warhols performed a kick-ass version of “Minnesoter,” followed by an unrecognizable (to me) cover of AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells.”
They also played “All the Money or the Simple Life Honey,” an old-school Stones-rocker that featured a great chorus and a big jam with the trumpet and guitars. The Dandys followed that with the relatively obscure “The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers AKA the Ballad of Sheriff Shorty,” a sorta deranged C&W song that sounded nothing like a C&W song, but was uptempo and opened with a cool ZZ Top-type guitar riff and had lots of echo on the vocals. Finally, The Dandy Warhols concluded the evening with “Pete International Airport,” which featured a long intro with weird keening vocals and strange synth noises and then picked up speed before segueing into “Boys Better,” which received a big blustery guitar treatment with giant riffs and brought to mind a giant (like 50-foot-tall) panda walking down Hollywood Boulevard strewing flowers, although that may have just been the flu, which I had big time and shouldn’t even have been at the show at all.
What can I say about The Dandy Warhols? Other than I wish they’d been around during my hard-partying days? They remain one of the coolest bands on the planet, committed to the groove and all the groove entails in the metaphysics of rock’n’roll. All in all, I think things might have been gone better for my friend Alex had she been playing The Dandy Warhols at that Christmas Tree of a red light that wasted X-Mas Eve. Instead of looking at her like a human turd, the cop would have asked, “What’s that you’re playing? Is that ‘Holding Me Up’ by the Dandy Warhols, young lady? You have exquisite taste. Now move along, because that’s a Christmas tree and not a red light. Happy Holidays!”
Or so I like to think anyway.