Two retro-Psychedelic Bands Rewire an Era.
It was a psychedelic weekend in Philadelphia with two bands who are steeped in the sound and imagery of the late 60s,The Dandy Warhols and The Black Angels. The Dandy Warhols, formed in 1993, are the veterans and at the Electric Factory on November 8, they took a stage adorned with giant hanging spherical rice lamps like you’d find at Ikea only their’s are stoked with colored lights and strobes. Touring behind their recent Best of album, The Capitol Years 1995-2007, they pretty much played the hits from that era and wailed through them with abandon. “The Last High” was altered from a smooth synth-laden pop tune into a descent into hell with snarling guitars, drums of doom, and time-ticking synthesizer while “We Used to Be Friends” was revamped into a metal-edged charge. Throughout, frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmström laid down sheets of guitar noise with serrated distortion, feedback squalls and jangling harmonics. They played 24 songs in about 90 minutes so they didn’t stretch out much, but they did turn “I Love You” into a raving improvised screamer.
The Dandys have always been a group who wore their references on their sleeves: 60s psychedelia, 80s New Wave, Krautrock, and that’s still the case although they make them all their own, whether it’s the modal drone of “Lou Weed,” the 60s psych-punk of “Boys Better” or the hyped-up mix of Country-Jitterbug-New Orleans Voodoo on “The Legend of the Last of the Outlaw Truckers A.K.A. the Ballad of Sheriff Shorty.”
This was a less synthesizer oriented show than I expected. Zia McCabe stood in a small cockpit of synthesizers usually playing bass lines on a Korg with one hand while the other rattled a tambourine or maracas or was just planted sexily on her hip. McCabe cuts such a cool stage presence, she could’ve just stood their snapping gum and made it work. But she and drummer Brent DeBoer were in sync, laying down rock solid grooves, with DeBoer’s Hendrix-style freak-out haircut wreathed by his own cigarette smoke most of the night. His drumming is simple and brutal and a contrast to his choir boy-pure vocal harmonies.
The Dandy’s pulled a lot of songs out of the closet, including “Genius” which they claimed not to have played in years. You wouldn’t believe that to hear them lock into it, but perusing set lists from previous shows on the tour, it’s not there. You can see a lot of night-to-night variation like that as this band celebrates their career. It wasn’t perfect. Taylor-Taylor seemed to be struggling a bit vocally and on tracks like “Last of the Outlaw Truckers” he didn’t really get into the vocal character that makes that song such a psychotic trip. But I’d never seen The Dandy Warhols before and this greatest hits pilgrimage tapped all the right buttons.
The night before was more retro psychedelia as The Black Angels skipped right past 80s new wave and 70s rock and plugged their guitars into the early psychedelic era represented in Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets collection. From the surf drumming to the reverb drenched guitars, this band sounds like they ingested all of Nuggets and the hallucinogens that inspired it. Songs like “Sunday Afternoon” could’ve been on a 13th Floor Elevator album, including an “electric jug” effect, which makes sense since they backed up Roky Erickson for a while. Taking the stage of the TLA in Philadelphia amidst strobe lights and an optical illusion backdrop, I felt tossed back to psychedelic ballrooms like the original Electric Factory, The Boston Tea Party and the Fillmore. They twanged and screamed feedback through music drawn from their three albums, especially their latest CD, Phosphene Dream.
The Black Angels pour their 60s garage psychedelics through Velvet Underground drone and Jesus and Mary Chain angst. Both guitarists used old style reverb that conjured up strobe-lit echoes of bands past but also created an enveloping cocoon of sound that was lanced by feedback and massaged with more tremolo than you’ll hear in a yodeling contest. Through it all, Stephanie Bailey sits, pounding out big beat rhythms.
Their set was marred by an atrocious mix, with instruments buried and overdriven to unintended distortion. Vocal harmonies were smeared and forced to shout, Alex Maas’s vocals lacked the subtlety and nuance you’ll find on the albums. Instead he drove home the lyrics in a tone that recalled an especially tense Question Mark, of ? and the Mysterians. They even whipped out a bit of “96 Tears” organ on a song which is standard operating procedure for a group that quotes the “Twilight Zone” theme and early Pink Floyd all in one tune, “Yellow Elevator#2. ”
The Dandy Warhols and The Black Angels are groups that look back to a time when music was an experience of consciousness. But they are reinventing it for a generation with different ears.
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))