The Cult of Urban Bohemia

“THIS IS A GOOD DAY,” Dandy Warhols’ Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s t-shirt read. But June 22, 2013 wasn’t just a “good day”: to borrow a phrase that graced the Dandys’ website once upon a time, it was a “good goddamned motherfucking great” day.

In the summer of 2000, Portland, Oregon quartet The Dandy Warhols released their third album Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, their second for Capitol Records. The album ushered in a breakthrough year for the band that cemented their place in the mainstream, primarily on the strength of their ubiquitous smash hit “Bohemian Like You”. What started as a spot on a Vodafone commercial brought the Dandys subsequent media exposure that ranged from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Six Feet Under and The O.C. to countless car and clothing commercials and everywhere in between – seriously, if you’ve ever watched a movie or a commercial from the ‘90s, you’ve heard The Dandy Warhols. Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia turns 13 years old on August 1, 2013 and The Dandys hit the road to celebrate by playing the album in full every night.

Lucky enough to join The Dandys in a month-long stint (party) across North America were fellow Portlandians The Shivas. Now here was a clash of worlds: two of my greatest loves, The Dandy Warhols and Olympia, Washington label K Records (founded by twee pop/Pacific Northwest icon Calvin Johnson) to which The Shivas are signed. Even though the crossover makes total sense, given the proximity between Olympia and Portland, it took long enough that I never gave it much thought.

Although close to two decades The Dandys’ juniors, the tireless workhorses that are The Shivas have done one hell of a job carving out a name for themselves through relentless touring. In the process, they’ve developed a firm, confident grasp on this thing called “rock ‘n’ roll.”

Playing in support of their screechy new album WHITEOUT, The Shivas surfed up to The Commodore on a wave of distortion-fed garage rock. Never lost in the tide was their hip-shakin’ sense of melody as they hooked the audience without drowning them in the undertow. If the Commodore wasn’t already packed with Shivas fans, then judging by the house’s reaction, the band definitely enlightened more than a few observers with their holy presence.

People often ask me: “What is it about music for you?” I’m not going to attempt a longhand answer here, but I will say: it amazes me that drone – not even a particular rhythm or arrangement of notes – can be so immediately recognizable and stir such eager anticipation. Even without knowing that The Dandys are playing Thirteen Tales in full, all it takes is that first second of shapeless sound leading into “Godless” for fans to know what’s coming.

The Dandys sustained their zen cool, which began with “Godless”, for at least a good ten minutes, until the epic roll of drums on the third song “Nietzsche” crashed through the misty psychedelia of “Mohammed”. “Epic” is not a word I use lightly (or even like), but there’s nothing light about “Nietzsche”.

It wasn’t until keyboardist Zia McCabe busted out a washboard for the clip-cloppy, backpackin’, wanderlust of “Country Leaver” that The Dandys roved their way down to Earth. And it wasn’t until the next song “Solid” that the audience was finally able to release all of their pent-up energy and jump for the moon to the infectious, perfect-pop rock with which The Dandys have endeared themselves to legions of diehards around the world. And how many opportunities there were as they floored it through the mega-collider dirge of “Horse Pills”, sprang through the bicycle-kicking “Get Off” and, of course, set the house afire with “Bohemian Like You”, always their most anticipated song.

It’s a good thing The Dandys were mindful of pacing when they wrote Thirteen Tales (as most perfect records are) because palms can only clap together, feet can only stamp the floor, and shout-alongs can only go on for so long until the human body needs a break. This is where the simply, soundly-titled “Sleep”, aloof shuffle of “Cool Scene” and bittersweet, weary and worn “Big Indian” came in more timely than ever. And “The Gospel”, the final song on Thirteen Tales, which floats undisturbed like a raft on a lake at sundown, laid the audience down so gently, they could hear the usual muffled murmurs of a packed house in the song’s contemplative quiet.

Of course, The Dandy Warhols couldn’t have bid adieu with “just” Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia. Courtney kept the crowd warm with a sedated version of “Every Day Should Be a Holiday” while the band broke for five. Zia, drummer Brent DeBoer and guitarist Peter Holmström re-emerged to join in other encores which included “Good Morning”, “They’re Gone”, “You Were the Last High”, “Ride” and usual set opener “Boys Better”.

The only minor detail that prevented the night from having been flawless involved the two background players who joined The Dandys on trumpet and additional keyboard and guitar. While necessary for bringing songs like “Godless” to life, the extra pair of hands may have been a bit excessive, as at times, it became difficult to hear much other than the rhythm sections.

Small, cheap, local shows can be great and bring their own sense of community, but sometimes, I need a reminder of the magic of larger shows – it’s a magic that just can’t be compared. And The Dandy Warhols aren’t even as big as it gets.

“I hope when I see you that you’re still likin’ who I am,” Courtney sings on “Country Leaver”. I didn’t think it was possible, but more than 13 years after I first heard The Dandy Warhols, and three shows later, I’m only liking them more.

If you missed this party, don’t worry: The Dandys announced that they’d be back in Vancouver next year to celebrate an even more momentous, even more significant occasion: their 20th anniversary. If every day can’t be a holiday, at least every year should be.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu