By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jun 30, 2024 at 11:37 AM Photography: Mike Morgan

Sitting in the air-conditioned dressing room backstage at the Miller Lite Oasis on Saturday afternoon, I figured I’d ask the obvious question.

“How are the Dandy Warhols going to play only an hour-long set in the middle of the afternoon?” I asked keyboardist/bass player Zia McCabe.

“Well,” she smiled, “we’re rockers in our autumn years.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration, because even though the Dandys are celebrating their 30th year of existence in 2024, you wouldn’t know it by looking at or listening to them. And I’ve done that a lot over the years, having seen them perform maybe a dozen times. Their shows are long with extended jams, different than they sound in studio recordings … and they certainly don’t start before the sun goes down.


For all the times I’ve seen them play in Chicago or Madison, rarely have I seen this band in Milwaukee; their last trip here was in 2014. I wasn’t sure how much energy they’d bring for such an early show, but that was their Summerfest timeslot, so they made a mini-Midwest three city tour out of the opportunity.

To my recollection, they hadn’t played Summerfest before, and both McCabe and lead singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor agreed. So I left their dressing room and took my spot in the pit and waited to once again to find my live music happy place. It only took one song.

After the show, I asked the band if they did a sound check, because their first song, “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” – the one that turned me on to the group in 1997 – was muddy as the levels were adjusted on the fly. Taylor-Taylor told me you just don’t get to sound check at a festival like this, so they chose that song to start out because it’s more fun for the band to play it a little differently each time. After all, they’ve performed this hit a million times, and it made sense when Taylor-Taylor explained this is the best way to keep it interesting for them to play live.


With the levels squared away, my universe came into harmony as another, albeit more compressed, Dandy Warhols concert unfolded among the large crowd of die-hards and curious passersby. It feels like an inside joke at this point when you see a few younger hipsters wearing Brian Jonestown Massacre t-shirts, thanks to the controversial yet epic documentary “Dig!” But the Boomer next to me in the white safari shirt was in his 70s and knew all the songs, too.

I told that to Taylor-Taylor, as I drove him and touring drummer Pat Spurgeon to dinner at Goodkind, and he astutely pointed out that we’re all getting older: The band, the fans and this reporter, who first interviewed them for the 13th anniversary of 2000’s masterpiece, “Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia.”


“Autumn years,” I’m not ready to concede, but he made a good point. It wasn’t lost on me as I considered that I’ve attended Summerfest only in a work capacity since 1998. I’ve almost forgotten how to watch a show at Summerfest without writing a review.

Still, what a fun way to see a band that you’ve also gotten to know on a personal level, because I could appreciate some of my favorite old Dandy Warhols’ songs like “We Used To Be Friends,” “The Last High” and “Godless.” They went even farther back with “Ride,” which even though it came out in 1995, sounds new and modern.

And, for the first time, I could hear tunes off their new album, “Rockmaker,” like “The Summer of Hate.”

About halfway through the show, Taylor-Taylor told the crowd, “Here’s a song we’ve been wanting to play in Wisconsin for 40 years.” (I think he added 10 years to the band’s longevity, but I’m not slicing hairs.)


Of course, it was “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” And indeed, it elicited smiles from my group, because we were wondering if they were preparing to play “Minnesoter,” which wouldn’t have made as much sense.

Continuing along my review of reflection, I smiled again when McCabe moved from her Korg synth to bass, and I noticed that her skills continue to improve. On drums, Spurgeon is an excellent stand-in for Brent DeBoer, who lives in Australia and primarily tours with the band on longer tours, and their original drummer Eric Hedford, who also still plays with them from time-to-time.

Both Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmström remain pitch perfect, flawless on their instruments. Again, I used my time with the band after the show to ask a question that I think I knew the answer to: how much did you rehearse for this show?

Not much, they told me. They considered Chicago’s June 27 show to be a tune-up, but here’s the thing: this band doesn’t really need to polish its craft. Even though all the members do other things in life, they still play as one cohesive unit. And joining these major foodies for dinner in Bay View cemented that: they still actually like each other. Other than DeBoer, they all still live in Portland and do a lot for their city. When they tour, they sleep on the same bus.


Long story short, this was a wonderful show, even if the extended jams in “I Love You” had to be understandably shortened. McCabe doesn’t loop her droning baseline on the song; she plays it by hand. For an hour, the world felt alright again, and my happy place remained intact.

After the performance, I showed the group, its small entourage and its opening band for this tour, Detroit’s Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, a few spots near Goodkind. We stopped at Cactus Club and At Random, and whether it was the ice cream drinks talking or not, Taylor-Taylor decided he loved Milwaukee. So, being the unofficial Brew City ambassador that I’ve become, I took him and Spurgeon on a spin up Lake Drive. Who knows, maybe we’ll have a new neighbor one of these days.

On our mini Milwaukee tour, we talked about how one even defines this band; Courtney told me sometimes they call their sound “shoegaze.” I don’t think that does the Dandy Warhols justice, and myself being a very mediocre musician, my comments about their specific style of chord progressions probably made no sense, but I was pleased when Taylor-Taylor told me that he, too, liked the performance Saturday night and feels confident that he made some news fans.

At any rate, Saturday night felt like a different sort of Summerfest experience for me. More than 26 years ago I started OnMilwaukee and have by now written hundreds of concert reviews, and I’m pivoting into an owner and founder role more than a day-to-day guy. But the gratitude of spending the day and night with one of my favorite bands, ending on the tour bus talking vinyl with Zia and Monty Python with Courtney and Pat … well, that’s just the stuff of bucket lists.


I hope it doesn’t take another decade to get the Dandy Warhols back to Milwaukee, but if it does, maybe I’ll head to Portland for their 30th anniversary show later this year. Their music speaks for itself, but the totality of the experience of getting to know the members behind this group that I find very underrated – that’s what made this show so special.

Set list:

Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth
We Used To Be Friends 
The Summer of Hate
The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
I'd Like To Help You With Your Problem
Be Alright
I Love You
The Last High
Holding Me Up
Bohemian Like You

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.