A good show is the result of a lot of things--not just the music. There's the stage presence of the performers and the way they relate to the audience, the characteristics of the venue, lighting and visual effects, among other things. This afternoon's show by Dean & Britta, entitled 13 Most Beautiful. . .Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, was kicked off by a business suit adorned gallery curator, in the immaculately clean, stadium-style auditorium at the National Gallery. We were reminded to stay seated and that there would be a Q&A with the performers at the end of the show. Dean, clearly playing the band's leadership role, introduced most songs with some background about the accompanying screen test and each song was followed by what might be considered a rowdy golf clap as far as rock concerts go. Does this all sound a little sterile, perhaps even annoying? It wasn't. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.
As I write, I'm a few days short of 35 years. Several aspects of the show that I want to applaud will provide great evidence of that fact. First and foremost, I am so thankful that I was able to sit in a comfortable seat through the entire performance and no one could disrupt that by standing up to block the view. Dean & Britta's music is reminiscent of Velvet Underground's unmistakable dream, drone, art rock and some contemporaries like Yo La Tengo--and certainly Luna. (Dean & Britta founded Luna.) Therefore there's really no reason to stand, even when they get into more upbeat songs. I was perfectly happy to bob my head and tap my foot from my comfortable seat for this type of performance (and these types of performances are common for me).
The music was not loud. The mixing was perfect. The acoustics were excellent. I can't say this about many other shows I've seen in DC, save maybe (maybe) a show at the 6th and I Historical Synagouge (e.g., Beirut). Having seen several shows at the Black Cat and 9:30 club lately, this point really stood out.
To commend the artists, I'll say that Dean & Britta performed some great compositions that seemed perfectly paired with the Warhol screen tests displayed above them. On one song ("International Velvet Theme", I think), the chorus seemed a little hokey and on another the outer space sound effects reminded me a little of the ill chosen direction of the Grateful Dead on Mars Hotel. Aside from those two tiny points, this performance was perfect. (And those two criticisms are simply the result of my overblown imagination that I have the insights of a music producer.) For the moment, the National Gallery is providing a brochure with the full set list and additonal background information on the show.
Dean's historical interludes were equally well received. Even the ones that touched on the true and tragic tales of some of Warhol's closest friends and colleagues had an unexpected warm appeal to them. Most, if not the entire set played today, is available on YouTube, although you won't get the interludes. Amazon Prime Members have access to a free full length stream as well. It's well worth the watch and listen, partly to get to know their music and partly to gain some potential new appreciation for the film-making side of Andy Warhol and the lives of his crowd.
Some would likely find this entire show too artsy and and pretentious and one person I know said it made him uncomfortable to watch a single person for 2-4 straight minutes. Several of the screen tests almost felt like I was watching something that was meant to be kept private. That's not true, but they probably weren't intended for this exact purpose either. These aspects--the repurpsosing especially, made it all the more appealing and enjoyable to me.
Also, some might hesitate to compare this performance to other rock shows happening around town, for the elements I cited to start this review. The venue and presentation were fairly rare--too rare in my opinion. I would love to see more shows in this or a similar environment. (That's another nod to the synagouge at 6th and I, but artists could also tap places like the Gala theatre in Columbia Heights). I couldn't imagine a better way to see someone like Sigur Ros or Godspeed You Black Emperor. The downside is that any venue of this sort extremely limited in terms of capacity and most bands probably don't want to sacrifice the revenue of higher capacity venues--or would feel bad about the very high and exclusive ticket prices that would come with a more intimate show. The uniqueness of today's event was simply another perk. (Oh, and did I mention that it was free?)
With great appreciation. Thanks to Stu for the tip about this show. Thanks to the National Gallery of Art for bringing it to DC.
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