Seeing a band deliver on stage, in its entirety, a 13-year old album is like examining a flower pressed under glass. The vitality present when it was a living, breathing thing is replaced by an archival weight, but in the case of The Dandy Warhols playing Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia, playing the album brought restorative powers, and all these years later, an informed perspective. It was exquisite, and they were great.
Yesterday also brought news that an intact Wooly Mammoth, complete with blood samples, had been carved from the tundra in Siberia. Coincidence? We don’t know. All we know is that one of our favorite bands who, since 2005, have not brought us new music on par with what came before, played a set that allowed us to clone the enthusiasm we once had for them. After a note-perfect, enthusiastic, glorious rendition of arguably their best album — and inarguably their high-water mark commercially — the Dandys came through with a restoration drama reaffirming their uniqueness.
A few years ago, we complained in this space that the Dandys were coasting, that they’d never get back to the fresh-squeezed citrus tonic they’d brought to rock’n'roll when they emerged from Portland in the mid-nineties as a band that could graft Rolling Stones chops atop garage-psych songs that were as louche as they were comically astringent. Tulip Frenzy reader Zia McCabe aggressively defended the band against all charges and urged us to listen to the late stuff anew. We did, and modified our position, but still believe that you have to go back to the era from which Thirteen Songs emerged to find the really good stuff, “We Used To Be Friends” and “Holding Me Up” notwithstanding.
Last night, by the time they’d played “Mohammed,” we could understand better how the Dig!-era competition between the Dandys and the Brian Jonestown Massacre could have been so intense, for surely these two bands emerged from the womb as split-zygote representations of the same folk-rock band. While playing an album onstage and in its entirety reveals the different sequencing needs of two kinds of performance, the set gathered momentum so that by the time they got to “Bohemian Like You” there was a catharsis and belated recognition of how Thirteen Tales was built around what would become the Dandy’s monster hit. The record itself is a relic from that pre-iTunes era when albums could exist as a unit of measure, not an atomized collection of individually downloadable songs, and while in our opinion it never hung together as a single work so much as it is a great collection, last night the playing of the album as a whole was a success in itself and an assertion, which we accept, of its importance.
We missed the Pixies playing Dolittle, and those artists, from the Breeders to Lucinda Williams, tackling their records on stage. It’s more than a gimmick, or at least it was last night. It enables a band to focus on a moment in time when their creativity produced a body of work that can last. Our fondest hope, after last night’s performance, is that the day the tour is over, the Dandy Warhols go back to the studio and produce music on a level with these 13 songs from 13 years ago.