dandies

(Photos: Peter Hutchins)

The Dandy Warhols have long been a self-indulgent band. With over half their albums containing their own name in the title (often in cocksure declarations of awesomeness), and several others borrowing references from literary and musical icons, the Dandies have proven to be as divisive as their namesake pop art purveyor—while on the one hand they piggyback off the work of others, there’s also something fun about shamelessly reveling in the derivative. Like Andy Warhol, the band is also extremely self-promotional. When I once saw them perform at the Metro in Chicago during the middle of the past decade, lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor even went on a tangent in praise of the “little strip of meat” in his throat (presumably his larynx) and how much money it had made him. So it came as no surprise that in honor of their own 20th anniversary as a band—one that has impressively seen only one significant lineup change—the Dandy Warhols would attempt to make a celebratory spectacle. But in the season of giving, they only managed to offer up a mixed bag.

In honor of themselves, the Dandies put together a two-day event in their hometown of Portland. Taking place in mid-December, they were celebrating a tad early, as they actually formed in 1994, but in doing so they were able to lump in their weekend festivities with the pomp of the holiday season and the impending arrival of the historic Crystal Ballroom’s own 100-year birthday. So on the Saturday before their show, the band held a sold-out “fancy pants” five-course dinner at the Mission Theater in Portland complete with wine pairings selected by Taylor-Taylor and the Dandies playing an accompanying score to an after-dinner silent film. But, falling on a Sunday, the following night’s Crystal Ballroom show didn’t quite sell out, and despite a Christmas tree propped behind the merch table and party hats handed out at the door, the mood of the holiday show felt no different than your standard performance from a power pop band that’s played their hometown of Portland many, many times before.

Before the Dandies appeared, opener Unknown Mortal Orchestra effectively warmed the stage with crunchy, garage-oriented jams, and they received plenty of love from the assembling audience. Their involvement made for a bit of a nod to the Dandy Warhols’ grungier influences on their first album, as few rock bands formed in 1994 could escape the influence of the flannel. But as the Dandies eventually took the stage around 10:30, only their alt-rock/power pop influences were on display, their lengthy set remaining bereft of the Day-Glo psychedelia more common in their past. In many ways, it was a stripped down show, fewer frills than one would have expected and basic stage lighting in place of any visuals. But at least the band came dressed to impress with hipster formal wear.

The band didn’t waste time getting to the songs that helped them make their mark around the turn of the millennium (and also padded their pockets with TV theme, advertisement and soundtrack deals). “We Used to Be Friends” featured that little strip of meat in Taylor-Taylor’s throat dropping down to its breathiest for the verses and pitching up to falsetto for the chorus. Meanwhile, early hit “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” chimed in about how heroin is so passé. Keyboardist Zia McCabe bounced up and down behind her keys, Taylor-Taylor doo-doo-dooed behind the mic, fuzzed out guitar distortion rained down and the band delved into the meat of a setlist full of songs they claimed to have not played in a while. Despite jokey banter about both the band’s and Jesus’s birthday, the Dandies didn’t mix things up until later in the set when McCabe took up a melodica and, later, strapped on a guitar—which prompted many inside jokes from the band. But even then, the show grew repetitive, as the band is not known for their diversity of sound. Catchy in smaller doses, the Dandies aren’t built for sprawling sets such as this one. Their repetition came to a head most literally with “I Love You,” with the mantra-like repetition of that titular phrase.

Later, everyone but Taylor-Taylor left the stage, and the frontman played a slowed-down version of “Every Day Should Be a Holiday”—the theme of the night. The band reemerged to their frequently-played cover “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” followed by McCabe toting out a candlelit birthday cake and a rendition of that most obnoxious of annual songs. But these festive flourishes felt forced, as by that point some in attendance had begun to filter out as the hour stretched past midnight. Few wore their party hats, and other than a handful of bells and whistles, this was an unremarkable show from a band known for repurposing images and sounds of others. Then again, how much va-va-voom can you expect from a silkscreen-printed Marilyn Monroe.

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