It happened about 25 minutes into the Dandy Warhols' set last Wednesday night at the Crystal Ballroom.
The band had already played four songs to a packed crowd. On stage was Courtney Taylor-Taylor, the sneering, posing frontman whose terse yet pompous words have appeared in this column for the past two weeks. In those columns, I quoted Taylor-Taylor declaring himself bigger than any fad, his band an institution pushing the musical envelope, most recently on Odditorium or Warlords of Mars. And anyone who didn't get it was a screaming frat boy with a "magazine haircut." All in all, Taylor-Taylor cast himself as the future of music.
So why, at their Crystal show, were the Dandys playing the past? Through the first four songs, they had yet to play any of the cobbled-together deconstructions or acid flashbacks that litter their latest album. Instead there was, if I recall correctly, a few tracks from Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia, along with the Dandys' first hit, "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth." I can't be sure because I wasn't prepared to write about the show. My pen and pad were safely at home, and my mind was set on not giving this band any more publicity—an aim that would be foiled by the Portland Mercury's hilarious lampooning of Taylor-Taylor's words that came out the next day.
I was at the Crystal for the same reason I will always go see the Dandy Warhols: because the music brings back fond memories. The summer after my first year in college, I went home with "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" in my bag, a song I used to confound my small-town friends and family. In the bitter Minneapolis winter of 2001, I invented a car dance to "Bohemian Like You" to keep warm while my car heated up and because the song made me feel awesome. During my first drizzly fall in Portland, I spent many nights listening to "The Last High" while sitting alone on the bare floor of my studio apartment while Taylor-Taylor sang about "being alone, but adored by a hundred thousand more."
And even Odditorium..., for all its faults, gave me "All the Money or the Simple Life Honey," a song whose absurdity ("I tell you for the money/ the simple life honey is good," sung by a band with a Capitol Records contract) is overcome by the fact that it's a great pop song that can move a room—as it did, along with all those other songs from my past, Wednesday night.
By the time the band played "All the Money...," though, I was already aware that I was witness to the best live show by a Portland band I had seen all year. As I said, it began 25 minutes in. A fluctuating drone cut the between-song clatter, introducing the song "Godless," the lead track from 13 Tales. On album, the drone goes for a few seconds before Taylor-Taylor strums into the song, but live, he was letting it bleed, baiting the audience. Then, out of anticipation and frustration, I stomped my foot on the floor, creating four solid, reverberating thuds. Another guy continued from where I left off for four thuds. And then, as if it were all choreographed, Taylor-Taylor strummed into the song. I began grabbing at cocktail napkins and scribbling notes with a stolen pen, not knowing what that moment meant, but realizing, as the evening went on, that it was the beginning of Taylor-Taylor's transcendence, in my eyes, from prick to leader of a great band.
When I interviewed him on the phone, I never felt like he was listening to me. But here, he was listening. He heard me stomp, and he gave me what I needed, which is exactly what the Dandys have been doing for my entire life. Now who's the egomaniac?