Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia: Live at the Wonder
US: 25 Mar 2014
UK: 25 Mar 2014
Since you’re interested in a Dandy Warhols review, you might be something like me: you’ve heard of the Dandy Warhols, but never really listened to them. This means you’ll have your “ah-ha” moment streaming “Bohemian Like You” on Spotify. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Listened to it? Great! Now we can speculate wildly about why indie record store employees were all over these guys—their recommendations collectively creating the impression the Dandy Warhols were influential. It’s easy to credit these musical snobs with deep-diving the Dandy Warhols catalog before opening their mouths. But it may be safer to dismiss theirs as a condition explicable in light of the subsequent success of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge”. Let me explain.
As you may recall, word-of-mouth among musical taste-makers had “Losing My Edge” spreading like wildfire. Although the hit was catchy, humorous, and lyrically interesting—at least more so than then-prevailing chart gods of Nelly and Nickelback—some of that positive press must be attributable to James Murphy meeting the indies where they lived. In them, he established a connection using lyrics that mirrored their circumstance exactly: indie cred-connoisseurs naturally insecure of their place in the musical strata, concerned with newly developing scenes achieving a lasting relevance and elevating peers who reek of the same cologne (name-dropping, borrowed nostalgia) that they themselves rocked since art school.
In this regard, the Dandy Warhols’ “Bohemian Like You” is an ancestral relative, touching on the life and trials of the hipster-scenester. It’s all good—you’re in a band, eating fashionable vegan food, having casual sex with fellow bohemians—until it’s not. Because you find yourself spending more and more of your free time waiting tables to afford car problems, and promoting your band no one’s heard of, all the while living with an ex-lover just to split rent.
So did the denizens of used vinyl stores recommend the band chiefly because they were smitten with the lyrics of a radio hit? Perhaps. But even under that construct, for us to be any better, we’d have to listen to all Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, before concluding that record store goons were judging “Bohemian Like You” alone. And if we listen—either to the 2000 studio album or the recently released live performance thereof, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia: Live at the Wonder—we discover nearly an hour of music meriting recommendation. Indeed, the mistake might have been ours. Repeated recommendations had us conflating greatness with uniqueness. The Dandy Warhols didn’t invent the wheel, they just drive really well. And it makes perfect sense. Andy Warhol just made art; he didn’t invent soup.
And like Andy, the Dandy Warhols draw from innumerable sources, a variety which plays better today in the age of iPods, streaming, and touring behind a critically acclaimed release from the band’s past. (This is closer to what we did at the record store anyway: filling the CD carousel with a handful of promo CDs.) And when you’re a band with less than 20 commercially successful albums from which to draw diverse and crowd-pleasing live sets [bands other than the Rolling Stones], it’s better to be the Dandy Warhols touring behind the collage art of Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, than the Pixies with cohesive masterwork Doolittle.
Fortunately for us, while it would have been a surprise around every corner back in 2000, we can now pre-plan our live music experience. To start the show, it’s Choose Your Own Depressant as the Dandy Warhols shoe-gaze (“Godless”, “Nietzsche”) building wall-to-wall chords/vocals with reliefs of loungy horn/synth/guitar—a Sigur Ros falsetto over the Verve’s atmospherics (“Mohammed”).
“Country Leaver” serves as a sorbet, with either front porch pickin’ or hammy lyrics (“I can’t believe I can get there but I can / Man”) breaking your trance. Regardless, it’s an opportunity. Use it to cue the stimulants. Because “Solid” is the amalgam of Lou Reed and They Might Be Giants we never knew we needed. Manic keys/backing vocals give way to swaggering sing-speak, complete with standout lyrical hook, “I must have a door in the back of my head”. The spoken word of “Horse Pills” is closer to Cake, Beck and Butthole Surfers, with a bit of female audio (“Don’t worry ‘bout it baby”) that recalls the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” (“Give it to me, baby”). But the Dandy Warhols do their influences justice with a catchy hook and lyrics, ostensibly about pills but suggestive of other horse-sized objects.
After the pop propulsion of “Get Off”, instead of getting put to sleep by “Sleep” (did Damon Albarn guest on The Boy with the Arab Strap?), we’ll take six minutes to get lifted. (Belle and Sebastian is a fair comparison. See the Dandy Warhols’ “The Gospel”.) We’ll stimulate just in time for another uptempo suite: “Cool Scene” (60s garage-punk intro, INXS vocal), “Bohemian Like You” (love the Rolling Stones) and “Shakin’” (and David Bowie). There’s also a built-in come-down: a Wilco-inspired “Big Indian”; and “The Gospel”, which incorporates lyrics from an American spiritual (“Comin’ for to carry you home”).
[Since this is a review of Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia: Live at the Wonder, it behooves me to add that the live album’s otherwise faithful renderings of the studio versions do up the ante as far as vocal effects are concerned. This adds trippiness to the shoe-gazing (good), takes some of the edge off the Lou Reed swagger (less than good), and makes everything a bit more uniform (good). And I’ll just say that the studio version of “Sleep” is hard to beat.]
The Dandy Warhols stood on the shoulders of giants, and in the process became giants themselves. There’s nothing genre-defining about the 2000 studio album, nor the 2014 live album, Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia: Live at the Wonder. But they are genre-defying, owning every corner of music they mined for their critically acclaimed Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia.
And while touring behind it, the Dandy Warhols are the perfect mood-altering substance—for each and every mood you’re in.