The Dandy Warhols kicked off their new Distortland tour in Vancouver on December 06, hauling London band Telegram along as an opener. This was evidently their first show in Canada ever, having been friends with the Dandy Warhols for a couple of years, according to singer Matt Saunders. The band has been thoroughly hyped by the DWs on social media, and it would prove, during the show. Saunders continually and affably re-introduced the band and its members as the audience grew in the room throughout their set. What started as a row and a half of people standing behind the barricade turned into a packed floor by the end of it. They played a good length of a set, given a chance to really spread their wings over nearly an hour, even though they were tucked over to the right into about half the stage front amongst the cloaked instruments of the headliners. Theirs is a gritty, indie psych, rough around the edges, and laced up tight in rock n roll. Guitarist Matt ‘Pip’ Wood was decked out in a rather Christmassy-looking sweater, often disappearing behind his flipping long hair, which, frankly, I’m fairly envious of. Saunders opted for a leather jacket, migrating around the stage with a mic stand that seemed to not be keen on staying extended, when he wasn’t playing guitar, sometimes with his back to the crowd, sometimes shuddering one leg in a way that made his entire body convulse. Quiet, be-suited bassist Oli Paget-Moon hugged the shadows on one side of the group, and tucked up close behind them, drummer Jordan Cook. Saunders urged the audience to come find and meet them afterwards as, “we’ll be around.” And indeed they were – a couple of them seemed to spend much of the headlining set wandering about or seated at a table near the sound booth, chatted with whoever came by. They jumped into an appropriate and faithful cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” nearer the end of the set. A little light slapstick then, with Paget-Moon piping up as Saunders was busy at the back of the stage between songs. “We’ve got two more telegrams for you,” he announced. Saunders catapulted to the front of the stage and repeated, “Two!,” into the mic. “That’s what I said,” replied Paget-Moon. With that, Saunders did one more round of introductions for the newcomers. The audience reception seemed a little light for the energy they brought to the room. I think this tour will bring them some fresh eyes, and this band will be one to watch in the coming years.
Immediately, a fellow brought a laptop to the soundboard and plugged in an iTunes playlist called “Dandys FOH Pre Show” – custom, hand-picked tunes for the brief intermission. With instruments already in place, it wasn’t too long before the band emerged on stage, still tucked up across the front of the stage though, even drummer Brent DeBoer, making for a rather intimate-feeling show, even with the barricade in place. They came out swinging with “Be-In” off 1997’s …Come Down record, and would revisit some grand old hits through much of the set. Singer/guitarist Courtney Taylor-Taylor gave the disclaimer early on that basically they were pretty high, just in case anything went sideways during the set. Aside from a false start on one song, all seemed to go quite smoothly, but that isn’t out of character for them (surely). These kids have been drinking from the fountain of youth though – both in looks and demeanour, not much has changed for them in years. I’ve been checking out Dandy’s shows in Vancouver since 2000 – not right out of the gate, but enough for a good career cross-section, and their casual stage presence, their art, their attire, their faces, even Zia McCabe leaving mid-set to use the restroom (she did drink about a hundred bottles of water on stage) are mainstays. Their music has stayed recognizable as well. It’s been said they only have one song, but it’s a damn good song (across the first pair of albums anyhow). Themes are repeated, but that droning, buzzing guitar punctuated with snappy jewelly tones is really the point – music to get lost in. Besides, there have been plenty of departures from this formula over the past handful of albums. Distortland seems to be bringing the original sound back a bit more. They brought some interesting re-imaginings of a couple tunes into this set as well, such as a lasery-sounding version of “We Used To Be Friends.”
The audience had been waiting for this band for sure. Possibly many longtime fans in the room – there were some rather colourful members of the crowd, throwing devil horns and peace signs, sometimes simultaneously, clapping along to McCabe and guitarist Pete Holmstrom’s prompting, dancing amazingly, making out, and of course, getting high off Taylor-Taylor-approved Vancouver weed. That comment was super random, by the way – interjected between two songs, sandwiched immediately by silence. They run a live show like a rehearsal almost (a great one, mind you), with McCabe chucking empty water bottles over her shoulder, dim lighting, a hodge-podge amp stack, bizarre pauses, small inter-band conversations and people just randomly leaving the stage at times. It’s part of what makes them endearing. They aren’t really putting on a show – they just are the show. It’s a subtle difference. They are a rare enduring contemporary band of this nature. High-profile and making waves since 1994, they’ve weathered a roller coaster of fashionable music by just being their own art the whole time. While McCabe took her aforementioned washroom break, the rest of the band vamoosed as well, except for Taylor-Taylor, who played a demure version of the minute-long intro to 2003’s Welcome To The Monkey House album, then continued to stand nearly motionless, eyes closed, under blue lights, playing the beautiful, soft intro to “Sleep,” off 2000’s stellar Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. This is far and away my favourite album of theirs, and I was pleased to hear them choose a number of tracks off this one. The audience sang along to this one as the band bled back onto the stage one by one. Only a couple of bars of this song were sung, and McCabe’s return with a smiley wave seemed to snap the tempo right up to one of their biggest hits off the same album, “Bohemian Like You.” The room turned instantly into a serious dance party, with everyone leaping off the bouncy Commodore floor in unison. Sticking with Thirteen Tales…, they went from that into the super saucy song “Godless.” They even tucked a seasonal offering into the set, playing their punchy version of “Little Drummer Boy.” They left the stage with guitars held high, the audience with arms raised, and DeBoer and Taylor-Taylor hucked a few picks and sticks into the crowd before leaving. As is characteristic, they did no encore – if it’s planned, what’s the point I guess. McCabe was left alone on stage manipulating her bank of synthesizers with some ebbing blooping noises before vacating as well, leaving the stage techs to finally curtail the sound.