Dean and Britta

Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010

Duke University, Durham

It could have ended up just another lesson in how the visual cannot be married to the musical easily, or vice versa. But there Dean and Britta were, with band members Lee Waters and Matt Sumrow, delicately balancing the two and winning. The project was offered to Wareham by the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and initially I thought, surely that offer was based on his experience with dreamy, atmospheric pop that might lend itself well to Warhol’s voluptuously slowed down film shorts.

Wareham has experience putting music to film: Dean and Britta contributed to The Squid and the Whale‘s score, and Luna had songs in films before that. With a monstrous screen behind them, allowing the films to take appropriate visual dominance over any stage show, the band started into the set carefully, with Waters out on bass.

Then the tone was set: Wareham or Phillips gave a blip of background information, usually with a telling slice of life, for each of the 13 chosen film subjects. It made for an entirely different experience than an open viewing of these strong characters in Warhol’s circle, turning their non-performance performances into something much more revealing. So, while the Luna song “Teenage Lightning” was used for Paul America, and a Nico song, “I’ll Keep it with Mine,” was used for hers, some of the most effective combinations were less obvious.

Billy Name seemed, at times, to be a fixed photo still, with no motion at all; that intensity dovetailed well with “Silver Factory,” an instrumental grower that went stratospheric. Yes, Lou Reed was chosen as one of the 13, and the band played “Not a Young Man Anymore,” an old Velvets cut brought to new light on the Gymnasium song collection. This was the most full-on electric part of the night.

But the most engaging was Freddy Herko, a Factory regular. Wareham told of how Herko went from being a productive artist among those circles to a speed-driven ne’er-do-well. A friend invited him in off the street to take a bath, something he hadn’t done recently. He drew a nice bath, even threw in a little perfume. When someone in the next room played a Bach piece, he spun around in the room, naked, until, at the crescendo, he threw himself out the window. Then we saw Herko, a smirk coming through the dark shadows onscreen. He moved around in the frame more than any of the others we saw, contorting himself to different angles. The band played “Incandescent Innocence,” a somber, otherworldly track that seemed to try to make sense of this fragile, tragic figure.

After 13 songs, all needing to last only four minutes each (the length of each film reel), it made for what could be a shortish set. But after applause, the band returned for a handful more, ending with the Galaxie 500 monster, “Fourth of July.” I watched the video for that today, and you can see how Warhol was such a big figure in that band’s progress, whether they were conscious of it or not. And by those little anecdotes and glimpses of these people flowing through Warhol’s life, we all gained more insight into the real outline of Warhol’s circle.