Roughly 14 years ago when I was publishing a zine called Ant, The Only Cool Magazine That Bites, as well as writing for Lollipop magazine out of Boston, I received a promo copy of The Dandy Warhols’ Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia in the mail. I listened to it once and it didn’t grab me, but this was during the time when I was primarily into hair bands. I’d started listening to some other stuff — Garbage, Jewel, Sheryl Crow — but 90% of what I listened to was rock/heavy metal, usually of the hair band variety. And so I quickly dismissed The Dandy Warhols’ album, although I held onto it, always being a music hoarder since I was a kid. Cut to 2006. I’d just moved back to Massachusetts after living in California for a few years. By that point, I was listening to everything. Actually, by 1998 I was listening to everything from trip-hop to French pop, but it was only after I moved back to Massachusetts in ’06 that I finally decided to listen to The Dandy Warhols’ CD again. And I quickly fell in love with it, cursing myself for having dismissed it years ago. Today it’s one of my favorite albums of all-time, so I was very intrigued when I heard that The End Records — one of today’s best labels — was releasing a live version of the album. Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of live albums, but I couldn’t wait to hear this one. And my expectations couldn’t have been higher. But, guess what? I was in love with it by the time I finished listening to it for the very first time.
Recorded live on June 20, 2013 at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland, OR, Thirteen Tales… Live is a great record for many reasons. First of all, it’s truly a *live* album “with no overdubs or re-recording.” To get raw live recordings like this, you usually have to get bootlegs. Most officially released live albums are full of overdubs and re-recording. Lots of additional background vocals will be added, things will be tweaked for various reasons and sometimes they’ll totally re-record the songs live in the studio and just add canned audience noise over them to make them sound like they were recorded live in concert when they weren’t at all. I’m not going to sit here and accuse any artists in particular of doing this, as I don’t need a bunch of stans to start cyberstalking me, but I’ve bought at least 30 live albums during my lifetime and I would say that at least half of them sound guilty of that unsavory shit. Why do they do this? I suppose it’s because they don’t want people to think they’re less than perfect live, fearful that it would hurt their future ticket sales. Plus, if people said that their live albums sounded like shit then nobody would buy them. Better to basically commit fraud, sell some CDs and ensure that people will want to come see you next time you hit the road. So, you have to applaud The Dandys for putting out the real deal. Of course, that was probably an easy call for them to make, since the recording came out so well. But I have a feeling they would have left it unpolished even if it wasn’t so darn impressive.
Another reason Thirteen Tales… Live rocks is that, well, it *rocks.* It’s bursting with infectious energy. Every time I listen to it, I find myself wishing I was there when they recorded it, hoping that someday I can see them perform the entire album live myself. Another thing I like about it is that all of the songs are in the same order they were in on the original album. I hate it when artists release live albums that are supposed to be live versions of certain albums but then the songs are in a totally different order, in which case it doesn’t quite feel like you’re listening to a live version of whatever albums when you play them. A lot of artists also make the mistake of adding additional songs, usually their biggest hits. It would be fine if they did that at the end of the releases as bonus tracks, but if you’re advertising a live version of album X then I want to be able to listen to album X without it being interrupted every few songs by one of your greatest hits. I’m sure many fans feel this way, but apparently most artists are oblivious to this. Or at least their record labels are.
Another reason why Thirteen Tales… Live is so great is that the versions of the songs on the album are the same versions on the original studio album. Yes, there’s that contagious energy I mentioned, and of course the songs are going to sound slightly different because, obviously, these are live recordings. But the band didn’t do anything to screw with the songs. How many times do you see a band in concert and the guitar solo during your favorite song is twice as long as it is on the album? Or the band will interpolate a bit of a cover into a song. For me, any of these things just wind up feeling like interruptions. When I go see a band I want to hear their songs the way I know and love them. I don’t need an extended guitar solo or four minute jam session two thirds into the song or, say, a third of Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” sandwiched in the middle. Things like that annoy the hell out of me. I also hate it when you see a band live and they can’t seem to play the songs with quite the same tempo they have on the albums. For example, a five minute song might be six minutes when you see the band live because they’re playing it slower than on the studio album. This happens all the time. Usually it’s because the drummer can’t keep time and constantly slows things down or speeds them up. Well, the songs on Thirteen Tales… Live are very similar in length to the original studio versions of the songs. Sometimes they’re a bit longer but they’re never noticeably different, aside from the fact that they sound raw and are full of gusto.
It’s hard for me to sit here and comment on the individual songs because I love them all equally. And, as I said above, these are very faithful renditions, so there’s no need to compare them and say that the band did this or that differently. The bottom line is that you’re going to love this record if you loved the original studio album. And if you didn’t like that, then you probably won’t like this, although hearing these live versions might make you reconsider your feelings about the album in general since they sound so bloody good. All of that being said, there are a few standouts that I would advise you to check out first if you’re on the fence about getting this album and those are the trippy “Godless,” the amusing “Horse Pills,” and the dreamy “Sleep.” Which just so happen to be the three songs that I would name as favorites from the studio album if somebody put a gun to my head and told me I had to pick three. But I really hate picking favorites because the songs on Thirteen Tales all feel so close to me, or I feel so close to them, so I almost look at them like my babies and no one wants to choose between their kids. Plus, Thirteen Tales is a record that truly works best when played as an album from start to finish, the songs all fitting together perfectly like pieces of a puzzle. You wouldn’t want to remove a piece from a completed puzzle and just look at it by itself, so I don’t suggest cherry picking certain songs from Thirteen Tales… Live and not listening to the others. With all of its pieces in place, this puzzle is quite beautiful.