Dean & Britta + Shearwater
Barbican, London
30th July 2010

Releasing their soundtrack to 13 of Andy Warhol’s screen tests was an opportune moment for ex-Galaxie 500/Luna star Dean Wareham to fully express his love for Velvet Underground and the stars of Andy Warhol’s Factory. The screen tests alone, wavering between the visually arresting and the arrestingly mundane, were elevated into a new realm with the musical accompaniment provided by Wareham and partner Britta Phillips. Bringing the 13 Most Beautiful show to London (having frustratingly been given its UK premiere in Dunfermline last year) was a long-anticipated occasion.

The presence of fellow Americans Shearwater as support allowed the band to take advantage of the Barbican’s incredible acoustics, filling the air with the ominous beauty of their music. From leader Jonathan Meiburg’s perspective, the unmoving, unlit, audience appeared to the band as if they were playing to darkness. “It’s like staring into the void”, he uttered, and when a few random voices yelled out “We’re here!”, Meiburg piped back “…spoke the void”. Shearwater played what would be considered a ‘seated’ set, highlighted with tracks from their slightly underwhelming current album, The Golden Archipelago. It was only when reaching into their back catalogue, as they did with the storming “Century Eyes”, did Shearwater wrest life out of the void.

A predicament was met quite quickly while watching Dean & Britta (appropriately all dressed in black) and band performing in front of their selection of Warhol’s screen tests. Do you watch the band, watch the screen, or try and juggle both? The latter was almost impossible as eyes were often found focusing on the live performance while only occasionally glancing at the images on screen. While there was no mistaking the allure in Edie Sedgwick’s doe-eyed stare, Lou Reed’s 3 minute Coke commercial, or even lamenting the recent passing of Dennis Hopper, it was often the live performance of their recorded accompaniment that was the most satisfying.

Be it that the music was more interesting than the subjects or not, there were several moments during the performance where both sound and vision worked as one (with each screen test prefaced with a short introduction by either Dean or Britta). The best example being Freddy Herko, the dancer who notoriously danced himself into a frenzy before launching himself out a fifth floor window to his death. The music, both intuitive and aware, grandly played to Herko’s own feverish finale. Their reading of Bob Dylan’s song for Nico “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, and Velvet Underground’s “I’m Not A Young Man Anymore” offered much an historical context as a literal one. Something the elder Lou Reed, captured in his 1966 prime, would attest.