Dream Syndicate: Majestic, Loud, Noisy, Fun, Alive

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The Dream Syndicate in 2017

It’s not supposed to be like this. Thirtysomething bands touring on their first album in 29 years aren’t supposed to sound this good. But Friday night (Dec. 15) at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, a homecoming for the one-time Paisley Underground band The Dream Syndicate came roaring back with the kind of majestic, loud, noisy, fun, alive show that would be impressive from a band half their age.

They took the stage to Andy Williams’ “The Days of Wine and Roses,” a winking nod to their debut album, and leaned into that album’s slow-burning “Halloween.” It immediately set the terms of the evening: it was going to be loud, and it was going to be exhilarating. For nearly 90 minutes, frontman Steve Wynn and lead guitarist Jason Victor put on a showcase of overdriven, fuzzed-out, note-bending, string-breaking, speaker-shredding guitar abuse. It would not be an overstatement to compare some of the rave-ups to Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Frank Sampedro or Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.

Related: Our interview with Los Lobos’ Louie Perez

They were helped immensely by having a fine new album, How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti). Songs such as “80 West” and “Like Mary” retain the Lou Reed-meets-Ross Macdonald noirish blare of their ’80s material, and sounded perfectly of a piece in between earlier material such as “Medicine Show” and “Armed With an Empty Gun.” The rhythm section of Dennis Duck and Mark Walton are just what you want from this kind of band: pounding but flexible, steady but ready to push the songs into high gear when necessary. Chris Cacavas of Green on Red provided keyboard accents on songs from the new album.

For the encore, Wynn brought out a surprise: Kendra Smith, the band’s original bassist, and a reclusive figure since the 1990s. Looking more comfortable on stage than she ever did in the ’80s, with a rough, but effective voice (think Nico, or Marlene Dietrich), she performed her two solo spotlights, “Too Little, Too Late” (from Days…) and “Kendra’s Dream” from the new album, a fitting end to a night that didn’t settle for nostalgia but, instead, made new memories.

Watch them perform “Kendra’s Dream” the next night (Dec. 16) in San Francisco

Not sure what memories opening act Psychic Temple wanted to leave you with. The Long Beach act’s songs are carefully tattered Americana: all mood but no hooks. With waves of fiddle, guitars, Wurlitzer and pedal steel, they’re lovely in their nodding, late-night haziness. But frontman Chris Schlarb is human buzzkill. An almost willfully entropic presence, self-consciously smarmy in his white suit and drawled, bitterly arch patter, he’s Father John Misty without all that Father John Mistiness, which means he’s not half as clever as he imagines himself to be.

Watch the Dream Syndicate cover Tom Petty’s “Refugee”


Steven Mirkin

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