While Afermath doesn't have any hard data on hand to back this up, we're guessing that driving an audience to a show on Labor Day evening is a tough sell. Or at least it seemed to be for the Portland, Ore.-based Dandy Warhols Monday night at Warehouse Live. Despite their long-established musical reputation which sells out shows around the world, the Warhols had to content themselves with playing to a crowd of roughly 600 Houstonians. To their credit, it didn't seem to faze either them or the audience much. Depending on your frame of mind, their 25-song set list was generous or exhausting, and the band literally ran the gamut of their catalog, channeling influences from glam-rock to punk and electronica. The crowd was predominantly over 30, with handfuls of younger fans here and there, and they were universally enthusiastic - it may have been tough to get people out at the end of a long weekend, but those who showed up were there to enjoy the music.
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After years of playing with each other and in front of audiences, the Warhols are polished showmen - no disrespect intended to the very talented keyboardist/percussionist Zia McCabe, but "showpeople" just sounds so lame - who Monday put together a set list that rode the audience up and down through an interplay between pop frenzies and meditative altered states. They gave the audience exactly what they wanted with their catchiest, most famous songs such as "Bohemian Like You" and "Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth" but also stretched them with periods of experimental noise-rock and thick, layered space jams. The visuals of the show were driven by four tall, rectangular pixilated LED light columns mounted on the wall behind the band. In addition to creating auras or negative space around the performers at appropriate moments, these displays were used to tremendous effect to mirror the tone of whichever song was being played. When the musicians were pulling from the spacey, digital, synth realm of their portfolio, with songs such as "Be-In," the lighting was geometric, cold, white and blue. When they were pulling from their thick, layered, psychedelic realm, however, with songs such as "Plan A," the displays became fluid, vibrant, warm and varied. Unfortunately, the not-insignificant draw back of this set-up was that it visually reinforced the isolation of each of the band members on the stage. Each musician, backed by one of the light columns, seemed to be operating within his or her own limited physical space, and the group by and large failed to create and project a unified physical energy into the room. While this did not impact the listening experience, it did have the effect of dampening the band/audience interaction, particularly during their most blatantly high-energy, poppy pieces.
Just when they ran the risk of being a bit too detached, however, or seemed to be a bit too steeped in cool, they shook off the nonchalance by doing something self-referentially "uncool" such as leading the crowd in a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" to an audience member or soliciting requests for the final song. Overall, the show was a success, with the Warhols demonstrating that they can link their glib pop sensibility with serious exploratory musicianship. In fact, we'd say the most satisfying pieces of the night were the ones in which the band set aside their often lyrically facile anthemic pieces and allowed themselves to drone, abstract and explore. On that note, it's worth mentioning that a good half of the audience came late, thereby missing the performance by the opening band, Los Angeles-based Spindrift. This was their loss as the group performed genuinely interesting pieces which combined the essences of spaghetti Westerns and peyote in a way that we can honestly say we hadn't quite heard before.