The Dream Syndicate
The Bowery Ballroom
December 2, 2017
Review and photos by David Chiu
The Dream Syndicate show at the Bowery Ballroom this past Saturday was an alt-rock guitar lover’s dream, because it was nothing but rip-roaring axe work for a turbulent yet enjoyable 90 minutes. Then again, controlled chaos is what this veteran band, led by guitarist/singer Steve Wynn, from the Paisley Underground era has been renowned for, ever since the release of its classic debut from 1982, The Days of Wine and Roses. Thirty-five years after that seminal record, the Dream Syndicate is still standing and sounding vibrant than ever—which is even more telling given that the band had reunited a few years ago after a very long hiatus. Of course, the Dream Syndicate played a very balanced number of key and some under-the-radar tracks from the earlier albums, such as The Days of Wine and Roses, Medicine Show, and Out of the Grey. But the biggest takeaway from the performances by Wynn, bassist Mark Walton, drummer Dennis Duck, and guitarist Jason Victor is how the songs from How Did I Find Myself Here?, the band’s first new record in nearly 30 years, went down so well in the setlist—they fitted right in with the older songs like “Halloween,” “That’s What You Always Say,” “Forest for the Trees,” “Tell Me When It’s Over,” “When You Smile,” and “The Days of Wine and Roses.” There were some blistering numbers like the hard-driving “The Circle,” the noir-ish “80 West” but also reflective the lovely and dreamy “Filter Me Through You” (with a guest vocal appearance by longtime Wynn collaborator Linda Pitmon), and the melancholy “Like Mary” that stood out–as well as the epic funk-soul jam of “How Did I Find Myself Here,” where the entire band, including touring keyboardist Chris Cacavas, really strutted their stuff. Interestingly the final song of the set was not an old number (i.e. “John Coltrane Stereo Blues”) but another new song from How Did I Find Myself Here? called “Glide,” which ended the evening on a high, just like the song’s lyrics. Wynn delivered a charismatic performance both in his rhythm (and sometime lead guitar playing) and his singing (that dramatic long pause in “The Days of Wine and Roses” was a highlight); Victor, the relative newbie of this lineup, practically killed it with his playing, with a barrage of distortion and effects that really brought out the loud dynamics of the songs; Walton’s bass playing anchored the music, particularly on the new album’s title song; and Duck anchored the proceedings, making it look so easy behind the kit. The bottom line: If the show had only consisted of all the songs from the new album —and you were coming off the street not knowing about the Dream Syndicate’s back catalog– it totally would’ve have been enough, with the older numbers merely serving as the icings on the cake (whereas it’s usually hard for a veteran band to break in newer material to an audience weened on the hits). It proves that this reunion is not a rehash of old glories or a cash-in—it’s sincere and forward-looking.
Speaking of guitar-dominated rock, the audience got a nice helping of it earlier in the evening courtesy of former Television guitarist Richard Lloyd. Like the headliners, Lloyd a veteran guitar hero, hadn’t lost a step when he and his band performed a mixture of his solo work and Television stuff (the musician recently released his wild yet illuminating memoir Everything Is Combustible). He performed tracks off of his solo records in Alchemy (i.e., the title song), Field of Fire, and The Radiant Monkey (“Monkey”), and even dusted off a few Television classics from Marquee Moon (the title song, “See No Evil”); the dexterity of his fingers on the axe seemed effortless. It was an appropriate table setter for what was to come.