The Dandy Warhols warmed up for their West Coast Distortland tour by kicking off at the Commodore Ballroom last Tuesday, but the Portland vets came in already sounding burned. They were also light on their hits but left room for several songs they don’t often play in Vancouver.
The Dandies went through many of their usual motions. The band started with frequent set opener “Be-In”, a druggy drawl that lifted off with beams of soft-edged synths. Fans substituted their voices for the absent trumpet on “Godless” singing “baaaaa, ba-ba ba BA ba ba ba-BA baaaaa.” Drummer Brent DeBoer, keyboardist Zia McCabe, and guitarist Peter Holmström left the stage, granting Courtney Taylor-Taylor the spotlight to strum through and sing “Sleep”, their quietest number as always. The strung-out, heart-wrenching “I Love You” climaxed with plenty of guitar noise and strobe lights as Zia repeated a single synth line. And of course, the ubiquitous “Bohemian Like You” and other favourites including “Ride” and “Get Off” made the set list.
Despite these staple Dandies moments, the mood felt subdued, musically and in terms of the fans’ excitement. The band played some of their most danceable songs, from 2003’s Welcome to the Monkey House, but those songs more closely resembled the burned out, less commercial-friendly versions from The Dandy Warhols Are Sound, the original mix of Monkey House that Capitol Records rejected and that the band released on their own Beat the World Records in 2009. Zia armed herself with a bass for a version of “Plan A” that was funkier in the choppy way it stuttered. “We Used to Be Friends” was sedated, not quite the sultry, room-spinning electroclash hit it’s best known as. Even the band’s biggest fan favourites including “Bohemian Like You” and “Get Off” received the tamest reactions I’d seen out of the four times I’d been to the Dandy Warhols.
A moment that fans definitely got behind though was when Courtney noted that “It’s a very special time of year. Are you going to sing along to Christmas carols?” he asked before gifting “Little Drummer Boy”. The band played a segment of the instrumental “Pete International Airport” to bridge the holiday classic with set closer “Boys Better”.
The Dandy Warhols sure brought the distortion on their Distortland tour, but they may have brought too much. Courtney’s vocals were difficult to discern whether he was singing or speaking to the crowd. And he already has a naturally deep, intoning voice. It didn’t help that along with a few technical difficulties, Courtney consistently missed some lyrics (or sang too far away from his mics). “Oh no!” he exclaimed with a smile during the middle of a line on “Pope Reverend Jim”. He also seemed short of breath (or again, he pulled too far away from his mics) on numerous songs including “Get Off”.
Out of the four times the Dandy Warhols have played Vancouver in the past six years, their West Coast Distortland tour kick-off was their most underwhelming performance yet. But at least they noticeably changed up their set list. And although many of their songs had problems, fans of the Dandies’ latest album, after which the tour is named, were able to rejoice as the band nailed new cuts including “STYGGO”, “Catcher in the Rye”, and “You Are Killing Me”. The Dandy Warhols have developed a loyal following over more than 20 years, and one slightly off night likely won’t deter any of those fans. I know I will keep going back, because Dandys rule OK.
View more photos of the Dandy Warhols here.