Expectations were high for the Dandy Warhols at the clubbly LohoBoho venue Cargo on Tuesday night. Billed as an intimate gig that would showcase the band’s new album, the much-heralded return to form Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars, it was also a foretaste of their European Tour in October, where they will be playing to crowds in the thousands not the low hundreds.
Usually showcase gigs, stuffed with fans of the full-on variety and journos eager to show off their connections, are a reminder of what made the band special and why it was plucked from obscurity to play sell out sets at Wembley. When REM played Borderline under the guise of Bingo Hand Job, there was no question why the band is now playing 50,000 plus arenas. The same was true of The Rolling Stones‘ equally bijou London gig two years ago. From the band’s point of view these gigs take them back to their roots, a chance to enjoy the pleasure of performing without the suits hanging out in corporate hospitality.
The Dandy Warhols arrived on stage with that same arrogant energy. They looked like rock stars too big for the tiny venue. No words spoken, Courtney Taylor-Taylor et al stormed on and launched into Ride, a tightly played trip of pop-rock from early album Dandys Rule OK. Taylor’s voice sounded deep, rich and, on the next two tracks, purring, before plunging into the classic Get Off. But warning bells should have been sounded by the eagerness of the band to race from song to song and Taylor’s failure to address the audience until five songs in when he announced: “Ladies and gentleman this is our Achilles’ Heel.”
The song was All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey from Odditorium and it soon became apparent what he meant by Achilles’ Heel. Early on Taylor’s voice showed signs of strain and by halfway through it sounded broken: he could not reach the notes without sounding like one of those pitiful failures booted out of X Factor auditions. The strain was apparent on the crowd-pleaser Bohemian Like You, played more Love than Stones, which lacked the thrust usually associated with it.
The audience stayed with them, cheering Taylor to the end rather than booing him off – a sign also of the band’s general charm, could there be a nicer, more well-manner bunch of stoner rock stars? But what broke the energy was The New Country, also off Odditorium, which was slowed down to a snail’s pace and lacked the good ol’ boy cheer of the album track. The feel good bubble had burst and it didn’t return to the same level in part because of over indulgent intros on some tracks that gave people too long to stand around and wonder rather than dance, even when the song turned out to have the drive of Boys Better.
Oddly, as the performance lost energy, Taylor and keyboardist Zia McCabe, became more chatty. No explanation was given for Taylor’s vocal problems. The cracks were already showing from the comfort of the studio on Odditorium, so one hopes this is not a sign of a long term problem for the singer. How bad he felt was clear at the end, when McCabe walked on and told the audience Taylor’s voice could not make it through an encore. “Shame,” cried one disappointed fan. It was without rancour. The Dandys’ sheer niceness provoked sympathy and McCabe rewarded the audience’s patience by singing a lullaby she sings to her baby, who she had left with a stranger “for the first time ever” that night. It was a quiet end to a night that had promised much more.