Live Music + Gig Reviews

The Dandy Warhols @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

23 July 2008

Back in the mid-’90s The Dandy Warhols were the bright young hopes of US alternative rock.

But since peaking with their excellent album Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia in 2000, the band who put Portland, Oregon on the musical map has dropped off the radar a bit.

What once may have seemed intriguingly kooky came to be seen as irrelevant self-indulgence.

Their retro ’60s psychedelic garage sound, influenced by the likes of the Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones, has changed over the years from jangly guitar to a mixture of guitar and synthesizers. Nonetheless the Dandys have retained their dreamily melodic, layered texture, with hazy vocal harmonies filtering through occasional more discordant feedback and distortion. And they still have a loyal live following.

They are now touring to promote their seventh studio album, the sci-fi-themed, spaced-out …Earth to the Dandy Warhols… (available on download since May, in shops next month). Interestingly, the band forms a line across the stage so that singer-songwriter Courtney Taylor-Taylor is no more prominent than the others, just as his vocals have always been part of the mix rather than standing out.

While he may not technically be the frontman, the charismatic Taylor-Taylor still holds the attention – a tall and willowy figure exuding effortless coolness. His laid-back singling style varies in pitch, and several microphones produce different vocal sound effects, while when addressing the audience his drawling speaking voice seems to come from someone half-emerging from a dreamlike trance.

Peter Holmström’s guitar-playing is by turns chiming and angular, Zia McCabe’s keyboards (including bass synthesizer) contribute strongly to a murky moodiness and drummer Brent DeBoer also makes an impact with his backing vocals.

The band’s two-hour set features songs from all their albums, though not surprisingly their new material is represented the most. They kick off with two tracks from Thirteen Tales, Mohammed and Godless, immediately establishing their own distinctively hazy soundscape. Two songs from their poppiest album Welcome To The Monkey House, We Used To Be Friends and You Were The Last High, go down well. However, it’s their best-known hits Bohemian Like You (now sadly forever linked with the Vodafone advert) and Get Off, both played with admirable panache, that gets the crowd rocking.

The Dandys play about half of the tracks from their characteristically inconsistent new album, including the funky Welcome To The Third World, the brooding Wasp In The Lotus and The Legend Of The Last Of The Outlaw Truckers AKA The Ballad Of Sherriff Shorty (a new sub-genre of psychedelic trucking music). Minnesoter (sic) is played as an audience request, while the rest of the band leave the stage for Taylor-Taylor to perform a highly effective solo version of Every Day Should Be a Holiday on acoustic guitar.

They finish with the bluesy Country Leaver. For once there are no encores as the 11 o’clock curfew has already been broken – it’s a tribute to the band’s performance that the time has gone so quickly.

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More on The Dandy Warhols
The Dandy Warhols – Distortland
The Dandy Warhols – …Earth To The Dandy Warhols…
Interview: The Dandy Warhols
The Dandy Warhols @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
The Dandy Warhols – Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars