The Dandy Warhols’ last Cleveland appearance before their Saturday night show at the Grog Shop was in 1996, opening for Love And Rockets at the Odeon. (This absence seems absolutely preposterous, but the band’s official gigography confirms this gap in shows.) Perhaps that’s why the show was sold out well in advance—and why those in attendance were itching to party.
More on that later. In the meantime, the eternally cool Portland quartet delivered a solid set which pleased the salivating crowd, mainly because the band stuck mostly to the hits. 1997’s creative high-water mark …The Dandy Warhols Come Down was particularly well-represented; in fact, the show began with the desolate-wasteland instrumental “Pete International Airport” and segued into the laissez-faire psych-pop gem “Boys Better.” Disappointingly, the sound was severely muffled and overly thin at first: From the back of the crowded room, Zia McCabe’s burbling keyboards were mostly inaudible, and the propulsive tempo never surged.
It took a few more songs—including an anemic “You Were The Last High” and a shaky “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth”—for the sound to even out and the show to catch fire. After that, the Dandys settled into a steady groove with moments of transcendence. The droning hum “Good Morning” boasted a cracked-glass guitar solo and sighing harmonies; the first album staple “Ride” was a wicked psychedelic rock clinic ripped with distortion; and the Stones-y shuffle “All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey” had carefree swagger.
The Dandys released an album, This Machine, in April. Only a few of these new songs made the setlist cut; the best was “Sad Vacation,” a tune which sailed along on clipped, almost Krautrock-like rhythms and spooky Courtney Taylor-Taylor vocals. (“Autumn Carnival,” with its kicky pop beats and grungy guitars, ran a close second.) The sleepier “Well They’re Gone,” meanwhile, deflated the energy generated by the one-two tornadic punch of the twang-punk-drunk “Horse Pills” and galloping “Get Off.”
Taylor-Taylor’s voice sounded hoarse and somewhat strained at times, in particular during “The Dandy Warhols’ T.V. Theme Song.” Still, he made his lower-register croon work for even their best-known songs—such as the indelible “Bohemian Like You,” whose protagonist seemed delightfully creepy instead of hapless. In fact, Taylor-Taylor’s vocal performances called to mind none other than his band’s long-ago tourmates Love And Rockets, the kings of cool, detached darkness.
Since flirting with the mainstream a decade or so ago, the Dandy Warhols have slowly moved away from cohesion and brevity, as if their ability to craft pop hooks and zippy electropop was a burden, not a boon. On Saturday, it was gratifying to see them assimilate their pop-lined past with their creatively charged present selves.
The night’s openers, 1776, are actually signed to the Dandys’ label, Beat The World Records. Unsurprisingly, the Portland group’s psychedelic rock flourishes had much in common with the headliner’s tunes. However, a diverse palette distinguished them from the revivalist pack; specifically, the nods to sunny Britpop, British Invasion mod and classic rock steamrolls added pleasant color. A barn-burning cover of the staple “Train Kept A-Rollin’” was simply the exclamation point on an engaging set.
Notes: As for that crowd? Well, besides the fight which nearly broke out in front of us—between a young kid and a professorial-type sitting at the bar—we saw multiple incapacitated people being carried out of the club. Of those partiers who managed to stay upright, many seemed to have no idea what band they were seeing. This added up to a rowdy crowd experience which too often crossed the line from fun/entertaining to obnoxious.