When the Dandy Warhols released their first album in 1995, the year’s bestselling record came from Hootie and the Blowfish. Suffice it to say, a lot has changed in the music industry and the world since Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmström met in Portland, Oregon and decided to form a band. Yet on Saturday night at the Fillmore in San Francisco, on the final headlining date of a tour celebrating the band’s 25th anniversary (they’re playing the Bottlerock Festival later this week), the Dandy Warhols largely treated the affair as they would any other show.
Although singer-guitarist Taylor-Taylor, guitarist Holmstöm, keyboardist Zia McCabe and drummer Brent DeBoer had played 13 shows in the past 15 days, they seemed no worse for wear — although they didn’t hit the stage until the very rock and roll time of 10:45 p.m. Stationed amidst several iridescent (and slightly deflated) balloons reminding the crowd of the band’s silver jubilee, Taylor-Taylor and company kicked things off with the gothic, haunting “Forever.” Highlighted by McCabe’s steady work on the keys—made all the more effortlessly cool thanks to her choice to stash her spare hand in her pocket as she played—the choice to open with a fairly atypical-sounding song from their latest album encapsulated the Dandy’s attitude. Yes, being a band for a quarter of a century is no easy feat, but that apparently doesn’t mean excessive fanfare is required.
In some senses, it was the pacing and sequence of the setlist that reflected why the Dandy Warhols have managed to stick around when so many other bands have dissipated. When the final notes of “Forever” gave way to a rousing take on fan favorite “Holding Me Up,” it was a reminder of the band’s proven track record as a rock chameleons: That song’s alt-pop sensibilities are a world apart from “Forever,” yet both tracks are clearly cut from the same cloth. The band’s ability to embrace different sounds—psychedelia, garage rock, shoegaze—without ever losing the core flame that keeps them burning was showcased again and again as the group performed selections from across their career.
As for fond memories, the anecdotes from Taylor-Taylor were minimal.
Dressed in his typical attire—a vest, scarf, and tight maroon pants—he spoke at one point about performing in a garage in San Francisco’s Mission district with local peers Brian Jonestown Massacre. Otherwise the space between songs was filled with instrument distortion, be it an open note from Holmstöm or some warbled keyboard noises. Chatting with the audience can feel forced or authentic, just as ignoring fans may seem arrogant or come across as a byproduct of a musician’s focus. In the case of the Dandy Warhols, it’s likely the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It seems plausible that a bit of distance and disconnect could be a helpful tool in conjuring the proper atmosphere for a rock show, but it may also simply have been the result of the band needing a few beats to catch their breath. If that’s the case, it’s certainly understandable given they’d played nearly every night over the past two weeks.
One thing that stood out was the age of those in attendance in relation to which songs they were most excited to hear.
It wasn’t difficult to spot the “Veronica Mars” fans who reacted with elation when the synthesizers of “We Used to Be Friends” (the cult series’ theme song) burbled to life. Likewise, the bohemians to whom the Dandy Warhols once famously compared themselves to have, in some instances, now become parents. Small clusters of moms and dads with younger children—the majority of whom were equipped with adequate ear protection—looked to share a moment with their kin when the band reached the evening’s finish line with early hits like “I Love You” and the classic “Every Day Should Be a Holiday.”
The stage arrangement for the Dandy Warhols saw Taylor-Taylor positioned at rear center beside his cousin, drummer DeBoer. Flanked by McCabe and Holmstöm on either side, their chosen alignment was reminiscent of a time when a venue’s intimate confines necessitated that the band wedge itself into a tiny space. Those were the days of house shows, poorly lit bars, and yes, garages in the Mission. While the stages the band now plays on may have grown in size, their approach has never changed: The Dandy Warhols play like a group that doesn’t need fancy soirees to prove their success. The proof is in Holmstöm’s fuzzed-out guitar licks; in McCabe’s Swiss Army-knife role in the group, constantly pivoting from keyboards to bass to maracas to tambourine; it’s in Taylor-Taylor’s vocals, which still seethe with a poisonous disaffection. It’s plastered all over DeBoer’s face every time he’s called upon to harmonize.
Anniversary show or just another Saturday night? The Dandy Warhols don’t care, and neither should you.