The best performance at Life Is Beautiful on Saturday was also one you probably didn’t see. Only a dozen or so people stopped by the Fremont Country club to watch Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ inexplicably under-promoted 13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, a collection of the indie-pop duo’s original scores set to portrait films of Warhol’s iconic Factory cohorts.
Despite the fact the piece has been performed at the likes of the Sydney Opera House and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and that Dean & Britta have headed up popular ’90s indie bands Luna and Galaxie 500, their names didn’t appear anywhere on the festival program or its website. That said, the poor attendance didn’t impact the band’s elegant performance, and actually lent itself well to the sparse intimacy of the screen tests and the music accompanying them.
For about 75 minutes, we stared into the faces of ’60s New York icons including Edie Sedgwick, Nico, Dennis Hopper and Baby Jane Holzer, and they stared right back at us. The screen tests, also referred to as “stillies” and “facial studies,” are startlingly, disconcertingly intimate, their gazes unbroken except for blinks (or in the case of “Anna, The Girl Who Cried A Single Tear,” not a single blink for the 4:39 duration of the take). The portraits would almost feel voyeuristic, if not for Dean & Britta’s pared-down pop compositions, which adeptly tapped into their expressions to explore the emotions and stories behind them.
Songs ranged from sad and whimsical for Warhol muse Ingrid Superstar (“One day she left her false teeth on the sink and fur coat on the bed and she never came back,” Britta said by way of introduction) to gritty blues riffs for Hopper, who required no introduction. Watching the pair turn and respond to the subjects on screen while performing, it was clear that 13 Songs is not a canned soundtrack but a dialogue between generations of artistic influence meant to be experienced live.
And then, of course, there was Lou Reed, who tragically passed away this morning at the age of 71. Though there was no way to anticipate the news, it’s difficult to imagine a more fitting memoriam than last night’s performance of his screen test. The film captured Reed’s immortal spirit—effortlessly, impossibly cool in dark shades, he sipped from a Coke bottle with an enigmatic half-smirk while Dean & Britta played a terrific cover of “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.” He wrote the song in 1966, the same year as the screen test. He was about 23. After the show, Phillips recalled performing the song and screen test for Reed not long ago. "It was funny, because he was really so young when he wrote it. And then there he is watching us watching him when he really isn't young anymore,” she said. “But I don't think he's ever going to be an old man." We couldn’t agree more.