Live: The Dandy Warhols @ The Electric Ballroom
Whilst The Dandy Warhols have enjoyed mainstream success over a number of years, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that to the general populous, they’re really only known for one song. The royalties from ‘that song’; Bohemian Like You – an instantly recognisable tune that is played hundreds of times a day on rock radio stations across the globe could probably sustain the band in perpetuity – yet ask somebody to name the last time they heard any other Dandy Warhols song on the radio and you’re likely to receive shrugs and the scratching of heads. ‘One hit wonder’ isn’t necessarily a term that any artist would want attached to them, but if ever there were a band to which this moniker could be attributed, you’d be forgiven for making it this one.
Back in the day when you actually had to buy an album to hear what it sounded like (remember that?), I purchased Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia to discover the rest of it was nothing like the song from the Vodaphone commercial. Being a strictly one dimensional music fan at the time, I felt irritated by this and accordingly consigned my CD to the part of the collection that existed solely for the purposes of collecting dust. It’s only now, sixteen years later and in readiness for this gig, that I’ve been listening to it again – and guess what? It turned out that it was actually a good record after all.
Another good record is Distortland, the Dandy Warhols’ ninth studio album. Released in April, Distortland has received positive reviews and the band is currently engaged in a world tour to promote it. I caught up with them for the second of the UK dates at the iconic Electric Ballroom. This show was sold out months ago and you know it’s going to be busy when you’re having to swerve round touts before you’ve even left Camden Town tube. Sure enough, by show time the place was packed and the front row looked suitably squished against the barrier.
It was extremely dark when Courtney Taylor-Taylor (vocals/guitars), Peter Holmström (guitars), Zia McCabe (keyboards/bass) and Brent DeBoer (drums) took to the stage, and in lighting terms it didn’t get much brighter once they started. Quickly settling into psychedelic swirls of keyboards and guitars, the band commenced the first part of what was to become the only game of three-thirds on earth besides ice hockey. Fortunately, this one had less slipping about and hand to hand combat. Part one of three was majored towards introspective shoegaze, with tracks from the new record such as Pope Reverend Jim, STYGGO and Search Party getting an airing. The band remained resolutely mute between songs. It was good, if workmanlike. Taylor-Taylor only broke the inter-song silences to introduce Chris Constantinou: “You guys probably remember Chris?” who come on to play some superb flute for (Tony, This Song Is called) Lou Weed. The whole band gave Constantinou a big hug as he left and this heralded the start of part two, which was a whole more convivial affair.
The band, bar Taylor-Taylor departed the stage and he played three songs with just solo guitar and vocal. The first of these, Everyday Should Be A Holiday generated a significant crowd response. “I’m just getting warmed up. This is fucking great. Fuck those guys!” joked Taylor-Taylor before embarking on his third solo tune and final track from Distortland, The Grow Up Song. Cue the return of the full band and the commencement of part three.
The third period returned the band to minimalist crowd intervention but allied them to songs that had greater pop-rock tendencies and catchy hooks. We Used To Be Friends and Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth (surely the jolliest sounding song about a perilous and tragic descent into heroin addiction there has ever been) were both excellent, but everything was building to the elephant in the room that was the arrival of ‘that song’. Bohemian Like You was played, the crowd went absolutely potty, screamed the words, and boy, didn’t the mobile phones come out? In fact, it was interesting to check the dynamic of the audience. There were definitely two distinct generations at this gig – separated by around fifteen to twenty years. It struck me that a good proportion of the latter generation might have been there based only on exposure to that one song.
Saturday night is club night at the Electric Ballroom and with that comes an obscenely early curfew for the live music which airs first. Tonight, The Dandy Warhols chose to completely ignore the curfew and played through it, an act that I rather admired. It did mean that when they finished, there really was no prospect of an encore and sure enough, there wasn’t one. “Thanks for coming down it was a really nice night. Let’s really start drinking!”, said Courtney, shortly before leaving. He took Holmström and DeBoer with him and they left Zia McCabe to run a keyboard warm-down from stage right. Before departing, she plugged the DJ set she was about to perform at Electrowerkz in Islington and invited everyone along. I suspect a significant number of punters would have accepted the proposal and taken the short trip from Camden Town to Angel (Islington). For the next thirty minutes, the Bank branch of the Northern Line was probably echoing to the sound of ‘that song’.
Photography & Live Review by Simon Reed