The Dream Syndicate

The Dream Syndicate 4

Dream Syndicate c.1982 (l to r): Karl Precoda, Kendra Smith,
Steve Wynn, Dennis Duck

 

 

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Dream Syndicate playlist

 

 

Contributor: Wayne Jessup

Taking root in the Paisley Underground scene in LA, the Dream Syndicate wore their 60s influences well, but while leaning towards electric Dylan and the Velvet Underground sonically, the twin attack of Karl Precoda and Steve Wynn and an abiding lack of concern for what was current fashion makes a case for a Television influence as well. The idiosyncratic strength of Wynn’s writing and gift for hooks helped the band stand apart, and following an EP they unleashed their stunning debut full-length, The Days Of Wine And Roses, on local Ruby Records. Recorded late at night on studio down time, it’s a portrait of a moment, and the sizzling vibe doesn’t cease, marking it as a dark horse on decade’s best lists.

Spurred by critical acclaim and signed to A&M Records, they took their time in the studio, emerging with the sleek, dark, and challenging Medicine Show. Not living up to expectations sales-wise, the label cashed in their chips with a live EP entitled This Is Not The New Dream Syndicate Album, and called it a day, as did the original lineup of the band.

Wynn brought back stalwart drummer Dennis Duck, and embarked on a new journey with 1986’s Out Of The Grey on BMG affiliated Atavistic. Moving on to hometown label Restless Records, 1988’s Ghost Stories would prove to be the final effort from this incarnation, and the tour that followed was preserved for posterity on both Live At Raji’s and the Weathered And Torn documentary (linked below).

Steve Wynn then embarked on a solo career that never progressed beyond cult status, but more than kept the core engaged, ceaselessly pursuing his vision, including collaborations as varied as Gutterball and the Baseball Project. Highlights include the Miracle 3 LPs and an inspired collaboration with the Boston band Come on his 1995 album Melting In The Dark, a workout that stands with his Dream Syndicate peaks. (A separate takeout on Wynn solo is in the planning stages.)

In the early 2010s, Wynn rallied the troops for a reunion, hitting the European festival circuit and playing a smattering of domestic shows. Nearly 30 years after their swan song Ghost Stories, they hooked up with Anti-Records and released the staggering How Did I Find Myself Here, picking up seemingly where they left off, but with hard-earned wisdom and new found vigor, as evidenced on the title track and The Circle. Original bassist Kendra Smith reappeared to provide vocals for LP closer Kendra’s Dream (above), bringing the journey full circle. Following up with These Times, it became clear that this was a parlour trick on the level of Mission of Burma, returning from a hiatus to create work that rivaled anything they’d done previously. In April, they released The Universe Inside, arguably their most challenging work to date, kicking off with a 20 minute jam, The Regulator, which, of course, was the first ‘single’.

 

The Dream Syndicate 2

The Dream Syndicate at El Rey Theater LA 2019 (photo by Linda Pitmon)

 

TrackAlbum
Tell Me When It's OverThe Days Of Wine And Roses
The Days Of Wine And RosesThe Days Of Wine And Roses
MerrittvilleMedicine Show
BostonOut Of The Grey
The Side I'll Never ShowGhost Stories
When The Curtain Falls IGhost Stories
When The Curtain Falls IIGhost Stories
Filter Me Through YouHow Did I Find Myself Here
Still Here NowThese Times
The LongingThe Universe Inside

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Dream Syndicate playlist

 

The bookends of debut LP The Days Of Wine And Roses are the perfect starting point for the playlist, with the former (Tell Me When It’s Over) starting with an irresistible hook, the latter (title track) a full-on onslaught.

Merrittville ups the ante somehow on the utter darkness of Medicine Show. Boston from Out Of The Grey is one of Wynn’s finest writing achievements, a portrait of a young man in exile from his homeland, stuck in Boston in 1968, freezing and penniless, questioning everything about his life and circumstance, not long before he dropped Astral Weeks on an unsuspecting world.

Based on the critical take and tracks chosen for compilations, the narrative of their final original LP was that of a tired band reaching for the commercial brass ring and falling short. Actually listening to Ghost Stories revealed a band in full flight, raging against the dying of the light. Opener The Side I’ll Never Show is as savage and heartfelt as anything to date. A la Neil Young, When The Curtain Falls appears in two forms on the re-released CD; a slow haunted version, and a seething kick-out-the-jams full band take. It’s one two of the hidden gems in the catalogue, and in true Dream Syndicate style, they appear one after the other on the CD with no differentiation.

Fast forward to 2015 and comeback LP How Did I Find Myself Here. Filter Me Through You replaces the anger with a survivor’s gratitude, looking back at the darkness with wonder, and the band meets the challenge, foregrounding the hooks that sometimes got buried in the melee. It’s more about intent than pure power these days, and the focus carries through to follow up These Times. Still Here Now carries the theme forward. Their newest LP, The Universe Inside, finds the band fully engaged and at their most contrary, completely thumbing their nose at the marketplace, while capturing the spirit of the Dream Syndicate’s history in a series of late night jams, represented here by The Longing.

 

COVERS

A handful of covers, including their take on the Bangles’ Hero Takes A Fall from the Rain Parade reunion on 3×4, a supercharged take on the traditional See That My Grave Is Kept Clean that travels a long way from Blind Lemon Jefferson but keeps the mordant focus intact. Supercharged also applies to Johnette Napolitano’s (Concrete Blonde) guest vocal turn on Let It Rain, and as a hat tip to their stay on A&M Records, Herb Alpert’s Lonely Bull is spun into a surf-rock gem.

 

 

 

 

 

The Universe Inside is breathtaking … imperial … you can just luxuriate in it … an hour almost of mind-bending, soaring, swooping, freeform musics from several genres so beautifully melded together that you can’t see (hear) the join.” Louder Than War (April 2020)

 

The Dream Syndicate 1

The band sketched by Yorgos Konstantinou at the Lido Berlin 2019

 

The Dream Syndicate perform “How Did I Find Myself Here” (featuring John Paul Jones) – recorded June 2017 at the Sun Station Vadsø festival in Norway

 

The Dream Syndicate: 1982-1984 (YouTube)

 

The Dream Syndicate live Rockpalast full set 2017

 

The Dream Syndicate official website

The Dream Syndicate bandcamp

The Dream Syndicate at Discogs

Steve Wynn official website (including discography)

“Weathered And Torn” (documentary on the Ghost Stories tour)

The Dream Syndicate biography (AllMusic)

Wayne Jessup (@waj1) can be found at The Owl Mag and Burned All My Notebooks. He has written on Mission of Burma, Fugazi, Spoon, Jawbox, Lucinda Williams, Afghan Whigs for this site.

TopperPost #866

2 Comments

  1. The Conceptuals
    May 16, 2020

    See that my grave is kept clean is my favourite.

  2. Marc Fagel
    May 17, 2020

    Nice post. I was a big Paisley Underground fan back in the 80s, but preferred the wonderful psychedelia of the Rain Parade and the jangly Americana of the Long Ryders. The Dream Syndicate took longer to grow on me, but eventually became a favorite as well, their darker grooves a bit more haunting but hugely compelling. They’re one of the few bands I can think of who navigated a return decades later and ended up with music at least as essential as their earlier run; those recent albums just SOUND great, huge and expansive and cathartic.

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