Fifteen years ago, the documentary Dig! set this two American bands up for years of indie rock rivalry. In 2019, the two groups are still at it, but their attitude towards music couldn’t be more different from one another. Is it fair to compare the Dandy Warhols to the Brian Jonestown Massacre any more?
The much celebrated 2004 doc Dig! pitched the idea of a classic band antagonism between the Brian Jonestown Massacre & the Dandy Warhols , two of alternative rock’s biggest hopes of that moment. At the time, the Dandys were the better known of the two groups, enjoying a significant measure of mainstream success. Singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor found himself with the chance to narrate the movie, thus turning the film into, essentially, the tale of the Dandys unforeseen rise to the top of the charts.
Shadowing the Dandy Warhols in the film were the Brian Jonestown Massacre. The group’s members were portrayed throughout as talented, yet deeply flawed individuals, prone to self sabotage. Anton Newcombe, the band’s singer, is described by his peers as genius. The band is compared favorably to the legendary Velvet Underground. But little focus is given on the actual music, barely featured in the documentary.
You would think that Dig! had done enough to write the history book on the two groups and on their legacies. However, fifteen years on, things look starkly different.
In fact, Brian Jonestown Massacre’s reputation has increased to the point that they are viewed as something of a Velvet Underground of their time. Newcombe has rarely flirted with mainstream success, but his band has spawned countless disciples, as well as numerous imitators.
Their most recent single Cannot be saved finds BJM back soaking up the bewitching sound of 60’s psychedelia. BJM’s experimentation on recent records seem to have brought them all the way back to Point A, but with an energy and focus often lacking in bands that have been active for such a longtime.
Legions of fans will be excited to learn that Cannot be saved paves the way for a brand new studio album. Their 18th outing will appear in early March. As expected, it will be an independent release on Anton Newcombe’s own label. The Brian Jonestown Massacre have outlived their reputation and their fame is still spreading.
The Dandy Warhols were billed once as BJM’s biggest competitors. Blessed with less flair for innovation, but a more controlled approach to their musical output, the Dandys became MTV favorites in the late 1990’s. The band enjoyed a string of hits. They played important festival stages. Some of their songs have an almost permanent place on indie rock playlists.
But through history’s lens, the Dandy Warhols’ music feels somewhat goofy, dopey, good time indie. This is nothing bad, mind you. But the fact that they have had to endure the endless comparisons with their more inventive peers, the BJM, hasn’t helped them in any way.
And so, in 2019, the Dandy Warhols continue to be playful with their new single Motor City Steel. It’s a hooky faux country song that chronicles the relationship between a truck driver and his would-be world-traveler girlfriend. It’s a good song, that, as often with this band, schemes the line between cleverly-catchy and annoying.
The Dandy Warhols will be releasing their new album, Why you so crazy, later this month. This will be the their tenth album and has been hailed as a return to basics by their fans.
The rivalry suggested by Dig! lives on. Luckily for the public, the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, have outlived the hype, found their comfort zones, and continue to challenge each other from afar, albeit with a very different musical offering.