Songs for Andy Warhol's screen tests at the Allen Room
Mon Jan 19 2009
Jane Holzer screen test courtesy of the Andy Warhol Museum
On Saturday night, Dean & Britta performed "13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests" as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. If ever a concert begged an audience to ignore the musicians, it was this one. The band played beneath a large screen projecting Warhol's mid-'60s film portraits of Factory regulars, blankly staring or fidgeting (depending on the drug?) for the camera. Adding to the stimulation, the performance was held in the Allen Room, Lincoln Center's magnificent theater with giant glass panels behind the stage overlooking Columbus Circle. Those bored of Baby Jane Holzer's screen test could avert their eyes onto Central Park. Those bored of the million-dollar view—is that even possible?—could look at the six-piece band.
Dean & Britta are Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, who dissolved Luna to concentrate on this band, which sounds pretty much just like their former group. Luna, of course, was the band that Wareham dissolved Galaxie 500 to form—the purely hypothetical assumption is that with each subsequent group, he gains the aesthetic benefit of paying his backing musicians less money. I suspect Warhol would have approved. In any case, Pittsburgh's Warhol Museum curators picked the right guy to soundtrack their screen tests. Wareham's music is famously unobtrusive, fetishizing the Velvet Underground for its downtown cool and slinky guitar mysteries. The musician's talent lies in his taste: His bands' best moments are the great guest spots from Tom Verlaine (Television) and the late Sterling Morrison (Velvet Underground), or covers of Beat Happening and the Modern Lovers.
At the Allen Room, Dean & Britta performed 13 songs, one for each screen test, both covers and originals. Some songs were vague, while others explicitly matched their subjects—say, a handsome rendition of "I'll Keep It with Mine," which Bob Dylan wrote for Nico and which the band played to accompany Nico's screen test. The films themselves remain fascinating, whether portraying Warhol sycophants (Edie Sedgwick, whose brief performance displayed more range than Sienna Miller did in Factory Girl) or future Entourage cameos (Dennis Hopper). As Dean & Britta played, the '60s' most fabulous Manhattanites gazed at the audience, raising the notion of aloof cool to new and never-again-seen heights. This notion culminated in the filmed portrait of a young and potentially evil Warhol favorite, his eyes shielded in dark sunglasses, staring down the camera as he sipped from a glass-bottled Coca Cola. The sitter was, of course, Lou Reed, and for his screen test Dean & Britta played the Velvet Underground obscurity "Not a Young Man Anymore." The song could not have been more appropriate. From the middle of the audience, his sunglasses replaced with spectacles, sat New York City's top concertgoer, Lou Reed himself, staring into his screen test with the rest of the crowd, a young man no longer.