Dandy Warhols- Coming of Age
The centerpieces of Indie Rock in the Pacific Northwest are the Dandy Warhols. Their musical ability evolves by each new release. It’s as if there’s gene recombination that meddles with their social consciousness to make them an important band. They constantly create events for their community from bike rides to other charitable events. They have a social commentary that is very clear and thus support many environmental movements. Their voracity is more thoughtful and a lot less militant, yet it works perfectly within their energy level.
Their cover of the Bob Dylan classic, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” eclipses the original and is almost as good as the Byrds’s version. Point being is the Dandy’s do some of the best cover versions performed. It’s as if they’ve made these songs their own. It’s not just how they cover a song, rather, it’s what songs they decide to cover.
The Dandy Warhols are my favorite band. This is why this article is so important for me.
It’s most difficult for me to be totally objective with this band. They continue to titillate me with their music and their growth as an artist. My attempts to proselytize my colleagues to their greatness were further reinforced. The following day I was blogging my ass off to share what I witnessed. I was preaching to the choir about the Dandy Warhol’s live performance.
A Portland radio station first turned me on to them. The first album was a mind blower! It was filled with humor and electronic emo that would take me to a place that was so fresh. I’ll never forget that drive to the Portland airport while playing the C.D. and calling the program director and thanking him for turning me on to the Dandy Warhols. Remember when you first heard Pearl Jam, Nirvana or Metallica? It sounded like a post neo independent jam rave-up, intrinsic with lyrics that were vulnerable and humorous. I particularly loved the track “Lou Weed” from Dandys Rule OK. They obviously imitate Lou Reed circa “Transformer” on this track with great accompaniment by the flute.
Their masterpiece was their second album, “Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia”. This was not a sophomore slump project. In fact it was the opposite!
They took their music and made it a pinnacle release. I compare it to the Stones album “Beggars Banquet”, a direction-changing album that raised the bar as far as their notoriety. The album had the hit, “Bohemian Like You” which was the best song the Rolling Stones hadn’t written for over two and a half decades.
Finally, the track “Sleep” is a spacey song to listen to after you’ve had a hard day at work and you needed to chill out. I would often played this song to my children so that they’d get ready for bed. It was far more successful than any children’s book I could’ve read with the exception of “Goodnight Moon” written by Margaret Wise Brown. If you had kids you ought to know that book.
Dandy Warhol’s songs are like Eastern religious mantras that audiences would go along and chant to. It’s the cultivated ear that recognizes this in their music. Their most popular track, “We Used to be Friends” gets played in every mall in America. Courtney Taylor-Taylor vocals typify this unique talent in his song writing. Plus, the syncopated hand claps sounds right out of early R&B and rock songs gives this track such a great hook!
He’s conducting a musical séance for the listener to identify with. The song goes from one mantra to another while typical songs are written with a verse start, then the chorus, and now the bridge and then back to the chorus. The Dandy’s use a different order; probably from the discoveries that Courtney has found in his meditative states. Common listeners aren’t use to the complexities of song structure but the Dandy’s breaks this wall down. Lyrically they write about their friends, relationships and personal experiences. I commend them for writing about what goes on it their lives. Most artists just hide themselves in their lyrics and don’t reveal what’s in their hearts.
The Dandy’s are maturing as individuals and it’s evident in their later song writing. The themes are more stilted than “candy” like. The band is growing internally in every capacity. Zia is a mother plus she has a country western spin-off band. She also brings artists from Portland together and helps them to develop their music. Zia turned me on to a band called the Sexy Water Spiders. Who remind me of early Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. Her role is similar, and I mean no disrespect by writing this, as Mama Cass did by bringing bands from the famous Laurel Canyon together during the 70’s. While Courtney Taylor- Taylor is directing videos of other Portland bands like 1776. In fact Courtney, from what I’ve heard is developing an electronic game.
The Dandy’s left Capitol Records and went on an intergalactic sojourn with “Earth to Dandy Warhols” which was released in 2008. They made a record that took them to the “next level”. Every song was fresh yet still maintained the nuances that make the “Dandys” the wonderful artist they are. This was the first release that they had put out independently and they wrote the album of their life. They had Mark Knopfler play banjo for the track “Love Song” and it became my favorite track from the album. Like most songs from the “Dandy’s” it was almost “trance like” or a spiritualization process. Also, on this album was their cover of America’s “Sister Golden Hair” which was so diverse from the original. The track that reflected their humor was “The Legend of the Last Truckers aka The Ballad of Sheriff Shorty” which has overtones of complete psychobilly gone awry on too much drinking of Red Bulls.
The Dandy’s new album is titled “The Machine”. All is said that this is a “stripped down” album. I’m not sure what that really means? Only laymen use those types of adjectives. “The Machine” is a record where the Dandys’ have evolved as people not just musicians. The band is getting a bit “long in the tooth” and their music themes reflect it. It’s imperative to know that the Dandy’s are not the same “people” that made the earlier records. In the rap and hip-hop world the artists start producing their juniors; and I predict that the Dandy’s will become excellent music producers!
As lover of a band that has done so much, it’s not up to the fans to demand exactly what we got from the previous albums. We should rejoice of their coming of age. My favorite track from The Machine is “Rest Your Head” which speaks of this maturation. Courtney is telling his fans that there’s not going be any sellout and “steady the course”.
I attended my first Dandy Warhol’s concert and here in Los Angeles and my expectations were completely fulfilled. Zia waved to me and Courtney needn’t have to go into a Rock Star pose mode. He owned the stage like it was his pulpit. They played their music and the crowd was on to it like pigs to corn. The audience, like me, were singing every word as if we had reached the Zen like state as the band performed. It was a spectacular show and their choice of material was impeccable. They performed a few of their signature “rave-ups’ yet none were played too long to lose the audience’s focus. Overall my experience of seeing my favorite band was fulfilled and only wished they played longer.
Jefferson A. Laufer
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