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The Dandy Warhols

(14 Nov 2010: La Zona Rosa — Austin, TX)

It’s a packed house on a Sunday night for the return of these Portland-based alt-rock heroes. It doesn’t feel like a Sunday though, because everyone’s getting their drink on like there’s no tomorrow. The Dandy Warhols never blew up as large in the USA as some of their more well-known peers, but the band created a classic late 20th/early 21st century sound that clearly strikes a chord with the discerning Austin hipster crowd. Perhaps this crowd leans toward the Gen-X age range, but that just makes it feel even more like the late ‘90s. With the horrific state of the economy in 2010, partying like it’s 1999 is just what the doctor ordered.

Guitarist/front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor has said that the band formed as a group of friends who “needed music to drink to”, and they achieved their goal in fine fashion. Take lush, layered guitars, add some Velvet Underground-influenced space jams, mix in some Rolling Stones-type anthemic riffage and a little punk power, pour on some harmonies and you begin to get a sense of the group’s infectious sound. The band is touring behind their newly released compilation album The Capitol Years: 1995-2007, a testament to the duration of their hooky songwriting skills. But the band struck out on their own independent label in 2008 and there’s a strong indie rock vibe throughout the show, fitting for a band that rehearses in a warehouse space in Portland dubbed the “Odditorium”.

1997’s “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” was a breakthrough moment for the band, and it’s an early highlight in the show. “I never thought you’d be a junkie because heroin is so passe,” sings Taylor-Taylor over a surging chord progression that gets the crowd grooving. It’s one of the greatest lyrics of the ‘90s and it’s only too bad more music stars of the Northwest didn’t share the same view (such as Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley).

“I Love You” dips into the Velvet Underground bag with a slow, steady groove that features an ascending psychedelic progression, accented by some trippy lighting effects. The swirling sound catalyzes a 4:20 moment across the room. “The New Country” features a raucous yet down-to-earth vibe that sounds sort of like a cross between early ‘70s Stones honky-tonk and early ‘90s power pop. Keyboardist Zia McCabe adds some harmonies that elevate the sound higher, much as she does throughout the night.

A peak moment occurs with “Every Day Should Be a Holiday”, a classic anthem for music lovers and party people everywhere, and especially here in “the live music capital of the world”. The high-energy rocker features Beach Boys styled harmonies over an up-tempo beat and surging psychedelic progression, which gets the whole room celebrating. The crowd joyously sings along to the infectious chorus, for this mid-November Sunday evening has indeed become a holiday thanks to the Dandy Warhols.

The hits keep coming when the band throws down their classic “Bohemian Like You”. Written to document the band’s counterculture scene in Portland, the chord progression is derivative of some early ‘70s Stones rockers but is creatively used to spark a fresh tune with a modern sound of its own. The wry lyrics also feel like they could just as easily be about Austin.

Taylor-Taylor introduces another tune as being “told by the point of view of a true Texan”, which of course brings a rise out of the well-lubricated audience. “Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers” has a raucous Texas blues sound to be sure and the crowd eats it up. The band keeps the energy flowing with “The Horse Pills”, another bluesy rocker that mixes a Lou Reed vocal style with some more early ‘70s classic rock riffage, a jolt of post-punk energy and a molten guitar solo. The band keeps playing to the local vibe when Taylor-Taylor says he wrote the next song the first time the band came to Austin.

“Back then I didn’t know Austin was the cultural oasis of Texas. I thought it was pure fucking evil,” says Taylor-Taylor to introduce “White Gold”. Thankful chuckles of acknowledgement abound in the audience. Austin is indeed such a cultural oasis as to redeem a state that otherwise probably wouldn’t get much love from touring rock musicians. The low-fi rocker about getting drunk and high – a popular recurring theme throughout the evening - recalls the late ‘60s with its “Gloria”-sounding chord progression and high-energy party vibe. It’s easily another fan favorite.

Between the band’s excellent catalogue of great tunes and fresh sound, the future seems to remain bright. There’s a chemistry between Taylor-Taylor, keyboardist McCabe, lead guitarist Peter Holmstrom and drummer Brent De Boer that suggests these Gen-X rockers are ready to keep on rocking for another decade.

Greg M. Schwartz has covered music and pop culture for PopMatters since 2006. He focuses on events coverage with a preference for guitar-driven rock 'n' roll, but has eclectic tastes for the golden age of sound that is the 21st century music scene. He has a soft spot for music with a socially conscious flavor and is also an award-winning investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @gms111, where he's always looking for tips on new bands or under the radar news items.

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