The Dandy Warhols wrapped their mini-tour of the east coast, the band’s first tour in over four years, at Elsewhere in Brooklyn a few weeks back*, with support from UNI and The Urchins. It was my first time seeing the Dandys perform but I’ve been following their music for quite some time.
Back in 2005, which is somehow almost 20 years ago, I came across “Dig!”: a documentary that follows The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols’ pursuit of rock and roll stardom. The film is a tale of sex, drugs, and onstage fistfights. Entertaining in its own right and not without its would-be viral moments, “Dig!” also showcases the amazing music that both bands created over the seven years that the documentary took place.
After watching, I spent months listening my way through their discographies, first The Dandy Warhols’ then the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s (all nine of their albums). I’ve been a fan of both bands ever since, and “Dig” remains one of my all-time favorite music documentaries. This is my long-winded way of saying that me seeing The Dandy Warhols live was long overdue, and I was excited to cover the show.
I was told prior to the show that the venue, Elsewhere, does not have a photo pit. It was also going to be my first time shooting photos there and I wasn’t familiar with the room. Oh, and the show was sold out too. Yeesh. This is when my habit of getting to shows early really comes in handy. Doors are at 6:30? Cool, see you at 6:29.
My “early bird” approach paid off, as it often does, and the room was relatively empty when I arrived. I wandered around a bit, eventually settling on a spot on stage left that allowed me to lean against the (empty) DJ booth. I was off to the side but far enough from the stage that it seemed like I’d be able to get a clear shot of each band member. Now, my usual strategy would have been to post up in this spot for the entire night, but I decided that I’d try to move around the room instead. That is, once I was ready to give up the comfort of my safe space and apologize my way through a sold out crowd in the hopes of finding an even better view. I’d do it… eventually.
As the house lights came down, a projector powered up and UNI and The Urchins took the stage. The band members stood there in silence and gazed at the audience with a deadpan stare for an unnerving duration. It was the kind of theatric display that’s impact on the crowd is entirely dependent on the music that follows. If the music is good, this “silent stare” introduction will come off as badass. If the music is lame, it will come off as overconfident and self-indulgent. Thankfully, UNI and The Urchins’ music was good – badass, even.
The band played the entirety of their set bathed in projected imagery, the brightness of which created a consistent and comfortable amount of light that allowed me to shoot the band with ease. Vocalist Jack James Busa had a Bowie-channeled stage presence and a relaxed confidence in his delivery that fit comfortably between the rock and roll attitudes of guitarist David Strange and bassist Charlotte Kemp Muhl.
UNI and The Urchins’ genre bending exploration of rock in all its art pop forms made for an entertaining set, with personal favorites being “Subhuman Suburbia” and their version of Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us”, which they covered flawlessly.
Towards the end of the set, I felt like I’d gotten all the shots I could from my vantage point, so I decided to commit to my decision to venture out. The room was definitely more full now, but I still saw a few pathways to get through the crowd. I moved to the center of the stage to grab some shots and then to stage right before making my way back to my original spot. Easy enough.
I also took some time to practice shooting some double exposures. This is always a lot of fun and is especially easy thanks to the Canon R5’s software, which allows me to create the double exposures in-camera. I haven’t gotten the hang of it just yet but I’m enjoying the process and the happy accidents I’ve created. My ultimate goal is to master double exposure so that it becomes a regular part of my concert photography workflow.
The Dandy Warhols set began in near darkness. Frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor stood under a dim spotlight, playing hints of “Be-In” before strumming the song’s signature intro to the delight of the crowd.
The lights picked up slightly as the song progressed but remained lower than my camera’s current settings could handle. Using my speed light would solve the problem immediately, and I had confirmed with security prior to the show that I could use one, but it felt overly intrusive. The lighting was deliberate, and I didn’t want to take away from the band’s intention for the sake of a photo. I would be patient instead.
The situation improved marginally during their third song, “Crack Cocaine Rager“, when some brighter, albeit brief, moments of light made its way from member to member. I took note of the rhythm of the light and timed my shots appropriately. The results were usable but still underexposed.
I was growing anxious that the lights would be low for the entire set, so I decided to stop waiting and to focus on figuring out how best to manage the situation and get the best shots possible. This included, but was not limited to, taking a shit ton of photos and letting the law of averages work its magic. Ultimately, I settled on moving through the crowd to find some new vantage points. It didn’t take long for me to realize, though, that the show was way sold out. A packed room with no more clear paths. I turned to see that I couldn’t get back to my original spot, and there was no space to stay put – I’d need to stop only to take a few photos and then keep moving.
There was a certain point during the set, I think it was while they were jamming on “Arpeggio Adaggio,” that I put my camera down and got wrapped up in the music. I mean, how could I not? The Dandy Warhols are incredible live. Why it had taken me this long to see them live is beyond me. It was clear that The Dandy Warhols are tighter than ever, and after nearly three decades as a band, they can still feel the ebb and flow of each other’s musical energies. It was a real pleasure to experience.
My photo-taking journey through the crowd eventually led me to the very back of the room where I hoped to grab some wide shots of the stage and audience. Even this far back, the density of the crowd made it a challenge to shoot. It was a welcomed challenge, however, as it showed just how many fans had turned out to catch The Dandy Warhols and give them the sold-out bookend to the tour that they deserved. Looking forward to catching both bands again soon!
* I know, I know. My turnaround time for these reviews is still shit. Bear with me!