The Dandy Warhols have reached an interesting point in their career. Now in their 17th year of record-making, they’ve achieved a status that is by no means immaculate yet still highly respectable. Often panned by the music press, their fanbase is a motley crew of listeners pooled from various different camps, stragglers that stepped ever so slightly out of their comfort zones finding themselves moved by the band’s gritty psychedelia and pop sensibilities. This showed at last night’s show at The Bell House for instance, where they were definitely some pairs, but nothing approaching large groups of friends banding together — an audience of loners.
The night before, the band had played at Webster Hall, but a chance to catch them at the far more intimate Bell House in Gowanus was far more appealing. Their chances at mainstream success, which peaked somewhere between the release of their excellent “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia” and the new wave heavy “Welcome to the Monkey House,” are now way behind them. This desire was an unneeded distraction now that the group has reached a comfortable plateau. Their stamina is comparable to a battleship — while having taken its fair share of hits, it was built well, and can still perform as well as the day it was constructed.
Band leader Courtney Taylor stood stoic at center stage doing his typical cross-legged stance with his guitar while singing in his ashy baritone throughout. Drummer Brent DeBoer, looking like an afro-ed Tyrone Powell with his striking dark eyebrows, remained the anchor at the drumkit, chiming in on backing vocals, while guitarist Peter Holmström remained hunched on stage left, adding many of the familiar accents fans have grown to love from the group. Keyboardist and percussionist Zia McCabe stood on the opposite side — having not lost an ounce of her charisma, she still vibes out, swivelling her hips to each song like she’s hearing it for the first time.
Rather than trying to shake the audience with a fast-paced opener, their set eased in nicely, beginning with a deep “Bohemia” cut “Mohammad” before reaching back to their 1995 debut with “Ride.” The set was of course sprinkled with their catchy-as-hell singles like “We Used To Be Friends” and “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth” but the show never felt like a greatest hits review, reaching for reference points all over the career from the more celebrated tracks from their earlier albums like “I Love You,” “Horse Pills,” and “Get Off” to the overlooked gems from their perhaps unjustly panned later albums, like “Holding Me Up,” “And I Dreamed of Yes,” and “Wasp in the Lotus.”
The Dandy Warhols now have seven studio albums to date. While “Odditorium or Warlords of Mars” is incredibly uneven (and badly titled) and “…Earth to the Dandy Warhols…” is a complete mess, their recent release “This Machine” is one of their tightest records in years, and the songs they chose for performance from it last night were often as thrilling as when they dug out “The Dandy Warhols T.V. Show Theme Song” from the vault (Taylor introduced it as “the first song from out first album,” imitating Robin Zander from Cheap Trick’s “At Budokan” album). “The Autumn Carnival” (which is co-written by Bauhaus guitarist David J) and “Enjoy Yourself” were both highlights, while the cruising “Sad Vacation” featured Zia McCabe stepping away from her keyboard station to pump in a hooky bassline.
One of the more surprising elements of the night was a cover of the Kristin Hersch song “Your Ghost” which Courtney Taylor performed solo. A forgotten single from Hersch’s first solo album, it had a haunting transcendence that could be felt throughout the audience that a followup performance of the song “Sleep” could not hold up to in comparison.
A plethora of favorites like “Godless,” “Bohemian Like You,” and a solo “Everyday Should Be a Holiday” brought the two-hour set to a close. Taylor seemed incredibly proud to still be able to be in a band for so many years wherein all four members legitimately enjoy playing together. Likewise, to have fans that returned the enthusiasm in spades. Not that anyone doubted it, but his closing words, “there will always be a Dandy Warhols” was incredibly reassuring and something you could feel the whole audience was thankful for.