The Dandy Warhols
[The Mail On Sunday, 2003]
THE DANDY WARHOLS
WELCOME TO THE MONKEY HOUSE
This is not the Lou Reed greatest hits show. If you want Lou Reed's greatest hits, a decent two-disc compilation called NYC Man is due for release, and everything on it is, indeed, great. But only a handful of its tracks are aired tonight, and most of those in radically unfamiliar form.
“Play Satellite!” calls out a punter, who has missed the point. “Vicious!” pleads another. “White Light!” “Waiting For The Man!” Reed looks amused. “Shall I play them all at once?” he deadpans; then delivers, as he does all night, exactly what he wants to - in this case, Venus In Furs, reworked as dark chamber music.
Considering his well-deserved reputation as a cantankerous old git, this is a Lou Reed of startling good humour and youthful mien. He has arrived on the wings of The Raven, a grandiose and somewhat hare brained studio musical based on the writing of Edgar Allan Poe. We have been promised “a unique and intimate evening of music and poetry,” which fills me with trepidation. What we get - because of, and not despite, its uncompromising arthouse stance - is one of the most compelling rock performances it's been my pleasure to watch.
Reed has brought a skeleton crew of skilful and versatile musicians, including a cellist and a tall, nervous, ungainly young man who sings like a flustered seraph. Their playing has the texture of felt, a soft backdrop for Reed's own abrasive voice and guitar. He's the grit in the oyster. At times, the insistent repetition of elemental phrases calls to mind Reed's higher-brow near-contemporaries, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. The result is so mesmerising that you miss neither the drums nor the familiar tunes; when, eventually, Perfect Day emerges, I have forgotten all about it.
The set list leans towards albums from the last two decades: Mistrial, Songs For Drella, Ecstasy and the new LP. Even when Reed casts further back, he looks to the more contemplative parts of Berlin. These songs aren't toe-tappers or hi-fi favourites, but they come into their own onstage. Their theatricality demands a darkened auditorium rather than a bright living room. They're songs for which you have to be there.
In addition, we get a blindingly good version of the already blindingly good Street Hassle; a delectable Sunday Morning; and a thrillingly staccato All Tomorrow's Parties, which heralds the entrance of a chap I can only describe as the kung-fu Bez. He throws martial arts shapes to the music and, unlike the original Bez, displays considerably more grace than a half cut mandrill.
Reed closes - almost, you suspect, as a sop to the heckling minority - with a surplus-to-requirements Walk On The Wild Side. “Doo-do-doo,” he mutters drily, in conclusion, and well he might. If your evening wasn't complete before now, you needn't have bothered coming.
From Lou Reed to The Dandy Warhols is but a short hop. Even the cover of Welcome To The Monkey House overtly pastiches that of The Velvet Underground & Nico, in tandem with The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers. The Dandies are not so much Reed's spiritual heirs as a gang of housebreakers who ransacked his attic while he was out at scowling class.
The Dandies are a proper rock'n'roll band, in the sense that they are a clutch of dissolute, exhibitionist egomaniacs dedicated to the art of wind-up. Their ridiculously good-looking wastrel of a frontman goes by the even more preposterous name of Courtney Taylor-Taylor, and if his own drug-taking claims hold true, his very breath has a street value of fifty quid a cubic foot. Keyboardist Zia's best friends wouldn't recognise her dressed above the waist. They make videos about junkies populated by merry dancing hypodermics. They are enormous fun, and up to now have cranked out rollicking, acerbic Velvets/Stones composites such as Bohemian Like You, otherwise known as “that Vodafone song” - a scathing sub-cultural satire which may just be the most misinterpreted hit since Ronald Reagan took Springsteen's furious and embittered Born In The USA for gung-ho patriotism.
On Monkey House they have fallen into bad company, but not quite bad enough. The reason it sounds like a collaboration between Duran Duran, David Bowie and Chic (and all in their latter periods) is because, thanks to guest appearances, it pretty much is. It doesn't always provide the sleazy mainline vim of the previous two LPs, Come Down and Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia. Still, the Dandies remain one of these rare bands - the Jesus & Mary Chain were another - whose bent for larceny is endearing and invigorating rather than irksome. To include not one but two blatant rip-offs of Ashes to Ashes on the same album is impudence of the first water.
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