Show Review: Dandy Warhols at the Regency Ballroom 12/11/10

by Perry F. Shirley on December 13, 2010

When thinking about the place of the Dandy Warhols at this point in their career, in their genre, it’s hard not to think about the Brian Jonestown Massacre (an unoriginal thought considering the bands were contrasted in the rockumentary “Dig!”). BJM was another talented psych-rock 90’s band with a tendency to go far out and meander into extended riffs. Actually, the Dandys brought this history up all on their own when they called out in the audience to see if “Joel from Brian Jonestown” was around.

As the tambourine player with mutton chops, Joel Gion was featured on the cover of “Dig!” and has remained friends with the Dandys, something that can’t be said about Newcombe. “If he’s here, let’s dust him off,” Taylor-Taylor said, referring to the fact that Gion left the band and can be seen sorting through CDs at his Amoeba Records job on Haight Street. But he never showed. “Aw, he’s not here. And that sucks extremely fucking much,” the singer said. You have to dig that kind of nod to industry pals.

Though both groups are prolific, the Warhols reached a greater audience (or rather “fame”) while BJM  fell into obscurity and infamy thanks to their messianic, ultra-talented leader Anton Newcombe. The Dandys’ talent and aura of cool led them to a major record label, and this particular tour, “The Capitol Years 1995-2007.” More tangibly, the result is that the Dandys have a stage backdrop featuring a 20-foot-tall insignia complete with hippie icons like a Westvalia van, sunsets and a pot leaf. Getting one of those made is pretty good sign you’ve made it and it beats writing your band name on the bass drum with electrical tape.

The Dandy Warhols broke in their show at the Regency Ballroom Saturday night with the nearly six-minute classic churner “Nietzsche,” which gave us time to over-analyze the band’s set-up and get-ups. All four members are lined up side by side, with drummer and backup vocalist Brent De Boer even with the rest. The one-time tambourine girl Zia McCabe—a kind of tattooed sexpot who bared it all for the Suicide Girls—has since acquired keyboards, synths and often brings bass lines into the tracks. She provides the laser-beam keys of the second song of the evening, “We Used To Be Friends” (played on their 2003 record by no less than Duran Duran co-founder Nick Rhodes). Throughout the show, the spotlight is mostly trained on band leader and vocalist Courtney Taylor-Taylor while guitarist Peter Holmström in a striped shirt and captain’s hat is so well hidden in the shadows you wonder if it’s his contract.

A fellow concertgoer with a Brian Jonestown Massacre t-shirt and a confessed track record of attending Warhols shows said we should prepare to be disappointed with the strained vocals; it was a tip he received from a brother who caught the band earlier in the tour. He proved prophetic. If there’s one way to test it, it’s to see how high a guy can go and “Used to be…” has got a falsetto refrain with full-throttle pitch on record but not, we found out, at the show. It was a shame, but then these things happen when you tour half the year.

Four songs in, “Not If You Were The Last Junkie on Earth” (better known as “heroin is so passe”) came on to give the audience something more familiar to hang on to. Again, the vocals fell off, with the diction getting hiccupy and syllables getting lobbed off. But then things got comfortable, like settling into a leather sofa. “I Love You” came and went like a relaxing reset button setting off several joints in the audience, which fit in well with follow-up “Lou Weed” off their debut album. Having regained a measure of mojo, Taylor-Taylor traded in his classy white Fender Coronado for a Dean Dimebag Dixie Rebel guitar, an X-shaped monstrosity with a Confederate flag paintjob best made for playing Southern-influenced muscled rockers like “Legend of the Last Outlaw Trucker” which is exactly what he did.

The evening’s rockers were getting into it now, and sweating buckets. Taylor-Taylor stopped to wipe the floor off with a towel, paused, wiped his guitar off. Then he thought about it for a second, shrugged and wiped his face off with it–spurring someone shout “Welcome to San Francisco!” at him. I was recently told that, in this city, to get girls all you need to do is have a day job and take regular showers. But being a rock star and toweling off with a floor mop is not a bad way either. After all, we’re talking about a guy featured in the new book “Sex Tips From A Rock Star” by Paul Miles.

The sonic highlight of the set (which is to say not the song the audience most wanted to hear: “Bohemian Like You”) was the seven-minute “You Come in Burned.” Holmström’s guitar scrapes around out of the fog with a melody then leads in to Taylor-Taylor double-timing on his own set of stand-up drums and McCabe’s keyboards pulsating in the background. While the show wasn’t the knock-down drag-out head trip I’d been waiting to see since 1997 (somehow missing every tour that came my way) it was a solid neo-psychedelic rock ‘n roll show that included all the tracks you’d expect to hear on, essentially, a best-of tour: the driving “Boys Better” or the driving “Boys Better” or the supremely classic “Godless.”

This was the next-to-last show on their tour. They’ve been touring since late July, trekking through Europe before heading to Australian and then unto their current US tour. But in between, there are inevitably pauses of a few weeks, punctuated by a show in Oregon or Washington, which increasingly feels like the band’s north star. After all, their fantasy space/recording studio/hang out spot The Odditorium (showcased in their last album for Capitol Records “Odditorium or Warlords of Mars” but underrepresented in the show’s setlist) is in Portland. That logo hanging behind them on set is nothing more than a riff on Oregon’s state seal. So what does that say about the San Francisco stop?

Mainly this: they’re ready to go home. Sure, the city got its shout-out. “We’ve been playing here for 17 years,” Taylor-Taylor said. “How about that World Series? The fucking Bush family sitting there…” he crosses his arm, pouting like they did in Texas. So we got some laughs in—like when they said they were going to play “an obscure one” only to launch into “You got a great car! Yeah what’s wrong with it today? I used to have one too…” and getting everyone leaping.

Near the end, we got treated by a cover of “Little Drummer Boy” which they only play during the holidays according to McCabe. It felt a little like seeing a drunk relative at the Christmas dinner going for a rousing sing-a-long but it was tradition so you have to respect that. It’s been said that the Dandys got together because they were friends and wanted to make music to smoke to. If the show was low-energy and not as sprawling as I’d hoped at least it was sincere rock. And that’s not a bad thing, by any means.

But then, they might have got a little too lax: think encores are a given at rock shows? Think again. These guys took off without looking back, Taylor-Taylor plucking a leather man-purse from besides the mic stand, leaving us wanting more like that feeling you get after a festival set.

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