So you know Dean Wareham. Or maybe you do not. He played guitar and wrote (or co-wrote?) songs in Galaxie 500, back in the Beforetime. Then that band split up for mysterious reasons he formed another band that plodded away for a long time and then also split up. Now he makes music with his lovely wife, Britta Phillips. And for whatever reason he is now touring playing the songs of Galaxie 500, a band who in their short time attracted adulation from a small number of people. I saw the last few songs he played at Bowlie Deux before Christmas, and was blown away, so I was very excited when Wareham announced that he was playing a concert on the tour here in Dublin city in the Workman's Club, a new venue.
Wareham was playing with the wife and some bloke on drums whose name I did not catch*. If you know Galaxie 500 you will get the musical idea here – angsty strangulated vocals over soaring guitar lines and impressively non-plodding drums. One thing I noticed live bigtime was that although people might think of the 500 as some kind of effete indie band, they would basically pass the Irene's brothers test of rock – as it seems like every one of their songs features a monster guitar solo. These are obviously a lot more impressive live than on record, with the likes of 'When Will You Come Home' being transformed from second division plodders into crowd-pleasing anthems thanks to the increased prominence of live soloing.
We were also interested by the titbits about song-lyrics that Wareham gave us. One thing I had not really picked up on was the extent to which the 500 were a drøgs band, but it turns out that a significant number of their tunes were inspired by acid trips. That is maybe obvious in retrospect with something like 'Decomposing Trees' and its lyrics about having conversation with your toes. More revelatory was the discovery that 'Strange' (the one with the lyric 'Why does everybody look so strange? Why does everybody look so nasty?') is not about alienation but about a time Wareham went to a convenience store while tripping his nuts off. My concert companions were glad that they were not aware of this shocking truth when they first started obsessing over Galaxie 500 as impressionable teenagers.
And that's about it, really. The crowd were very reverential, to the extent of shushing people who were applauding too loudly after songs when Wareham was trying to tell anecdotes. It seemed like maybe the best songs were cover versions, with the most epic moment of the night being the break in 'Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste'.
However, I did acquire some product at this performance. I remember back at Bowlie Deux Wareham mentioned that they were going to be selling his most recent record with Britta Phillips afterwards, and I thought "srsly dude, after listening to loads of Galaxie 500 tunes, why would anyone want that?". It was only subsequently that I discovered that the affecting version of 'I'll Keep It With Mine' (as popularised by Nico) was never recorded by Galaxie 500 and is in fact from the Dean & Britta album 13 Most Beautiful Songs. So I decided to buy it. It is an interesting work, being songs composed or recorded to go with a screening of various screen tests filmed by Andy Warhol (with 'I'll Keep It With Mine' being the song for Nico's own screen test). They tried to trim their musical sails to the person whose screen test they were accompanying, covering an obscure Velvet Underground tracks for Lou Reed's screen test and writing appropriate tunes for the others.
The overall musical effect is not particularly reminiscent of any of the other bands Wareham has been in, reminding me of neither Luna nor Galaxie 500. Looking at the credits I was not surprised to see that Sonic Boom shows up on one or two of the tracks, as there is a narcotic sense to a lot of the tracks that calls to mind the more smacked out work by Spacemen 3 or the material Sonic has thrown onto his sublime Spacelines compilation. I suppose that goes well with the kind of chemical carry-on current in Warhol's circle.
I understand that Dean & Britta have also been touring the 13 Most Beautiful Songs show, playing with the screen tests being projected above them. That sounds rather appealing and could work as much as an entertaining art project as a straight concert. So maybe one day this show will come to Dublin.
*which was a shame, as his drumming was amazing.
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