Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Will Steve Wynn Ever Stop Making Good Albums? Not This Year.

In case you were wondering, Steve Wynn has a new album out, Northern Aggression, his first studio album with his regular American touring band the Miracle 3 since 2006’s brilliantly multistylistic tick…tick….tick. It’s everything you would expect from the Carl Yastrzemski of rock. That baseball reference is deliberate: what’s most ironic about Wynn’s career is that despite a seemingly endless series of first-rate albums, not to mention his early years leading iconic, influential indie band the Dream Syndicate, millions know Wynn best as the main songwriter in the Baseball Project, whose songs are featured on broadcasts across the country during the long season. And as fun as that band is, this is better. As with pretty much everything he’s done, many of the songs here are constructed so that there’s plenty of room for a maelstrom of guitar dueling, although there’s understandably less here than there is at live shows where Wynn and his sparring partner Jason Victor go head to head and see how many dangerous new elements they can pull out of the air. One recent review called this Wynn’s most modern-sounding album, and that’s not true. The sound here is vintage, a straight line back to the Stooges, Neil Young, old R&B and soul music, filtered through the eerie fractals of Yo La Tengo and peak-era Sonic Youth (both bands that were influenced by Wynn, by the way, not the other way around).

The opening cut, Resolution, is the closest thing to dreampop he’s ever done, a slow crescendo of suspenseful, murkily cloudy guitar swirl that finds sudden focus in the chorus. The snidely triumpant No One Ever Drowns, an early pre-Dream Syndicate song, is done is pensive, distant new wave that hits another hypnotic peak that just keeps going and going. Consider the Source is a classic, menacing, midtempo, backbeat minor-key gem, all the more impressive that Wynn’s playing piano, Victor is on organ, and that virtually the whole track is an improvisation that came together magically in a single take. The best tracks here might be the allusively menacing, vintage funk-tinged We Don’t Talk About It, the deceptively blithe, equally allusive Cloud Splitter, and the unselfconsciously mournful, pedal steel-driven Americana dirge St. Millwood, which Wynn aptly considered calling Emotional Ambulance Chasers.

Wynn goes back in a dreampop direction with Colored Lights, a sureshot to be a live smash with its big crescendo out. The Death of Donny B is a cover of the theme from the 1969 Carl Fick short film (whose composer remains unknown), done much like the original as a brooding Bill Withers-style funk vamp. The remaining tracks include The Other Side, which wouldn’t have been out of place on Television’s Marquee Moon; On the Mend, another of Wynn’s recent two-part masterpieces, this one shifting from Layla-esque, anthemic pyrotechnics to straight-up riff-rock snarl; and the ridiculously catchy, warmly shufling Ribbons and Chains, which drummer Linda Pitmon – the most consistently interesting drummer in all of rock – absolutely owns. A shout-out to Yep Roc for having the good sense to get behind this. Put this in the Wynn pantheon somewhere between 1997’s Sweetness and Light and the landmark 2000 double album Here Come the Miracles (which was our pick for best album of the past decade).

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January 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Steve Wynn at Lakeside, NYC 2/19/10

When a band has as much fun onstage as Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 had last night at Lakeside, it’s impossible not to get swept up in it. Over a career that spans parts of four decades (five if you count his early days in the late 70s),Wynn’s stock in trade has always been menace – that, and improvisation. These guys are the world’s tightest jam band. Wynn warned the crowd before they began that this wouldn’t be the usual set list – his birthday was coming up, and a milestone at that. But the show was anything but self-indulgent. The quartet spun a web of over a quarter century’s worth of riff-rock, psychedelia, Americana, a rare gem of a pop song and plenty of the growling, hallucinatory, overtone-laden post-Velvets stomp that established Wynn as one of the early titans of indie rock with his band the Dream Syndicate’s iconic 1981 debut album The Days of Wine and Roses. They closed the night with the title track, lead guitarist Jason Victor’s whirlwind of noise scattering pieces of alternate universes amidst the rhythm section’s 2/4 stampede.

Between that and the creepy foreshadowing of a another Dream Syndicate number, Some Kinda Itch, they careened through the bitter, wounded, gorgeously crescendoing Sustain, a hallucinatory, jangly version of the sinister Cindy It Was Always You (lyrics by George Pelecanos) and the epic sweep of No Tomorrow, morphing out of a hypnotic two-guitar charge into the striking contrast of its surprisingly upbeat retro-glamrock conclusion. Bass player Dave DeCastro (on a deliciously gritty-sounding shortscale Telecaster model) got to take a solo early on and made it a plaintive one; Linda Pitmon led a clinic in good fun, Keith Moon style, riffing off both the music and the lyrics and reaffirming her status as the best rock drummer around. Every other song, it seemed, Wynn would coerce Victor in from his forlorn stance by the window and the two would duel, Wynn’s jagged incisiveness versus his sparring partner’s wrathful, overtone-laden leave-me-alone roar.

Wynn’s ex-Green on Red buddy Dan Stuart materialized out of the crowd and led the band through an authentically gleeful version of Baby We All Gotta Go Down, from the legendary first Danny & Dusty record, way back in the 80s. The surprise of the night – there’s always one or two at every Wynn show – was Older, from Wynn’s cult classic Fluorescent cd, ominousness matched to catchy understatement. “Forgive me for living,” went the sarcastic refrain. He wrote that one about eighteen years ago. Predictably, Lakeside was packed, and conversations that would ordinarily be private suddenly were not. Some of the older faction groused about the crowded conditions: why doesn’t Wynn player bigger places? Answer: he does. Bowery Ballroom, for example, where he’s recently done gigs with both Danny & Dusty and his increasingly timely Baseball Project.

February 20, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/13/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #380:

Steve WynnShades of Blue

Poignant careening intensity: leave it to Steve Wynn to invent that style. He says this song is about nostalgia, but it’s deeper than that. This is a requiem for lost time, particularly memorable for anyone lucky enough to have heard his old band the Dream Syndicate as they were coming up: the song nicks the opening hook from Tell Me When It’s Over, the first cut on the legendary 1981 Days of Wine and Roses album. From Here Come the Miracles, 2001. The link in the title above is a choice stripped-down duo version version from Philly, 2003.

July 13, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/22/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Alice Texas – Oh, My Beautiful

New song from the reliably excellent NYC noir songwriter/chanteuse – you’ll have to see her live to hear this. Watch this space

 

2. Lorraine Leckie – Four Cold Angels

Ominous, surfy ghoulabilly with a strange early 80s new wave edge.

 

3. Panonian Wave – Pitanje

Janglerock meets gypsy punk. They’re at Radegast Hall in Williamsburg on 6/24 at 9.

 

4. Bing and Ruth – Chaperone to a Civil War

Offhandedly stark, hypnotic, echoey minimalist instrumental.

 

5. D.B.C.R. – Let Them Eat Bikes

The band name stands for Drunken Belligerent Confrontational Rock. They hate trendoids, gentrification and they have Jason Victor from Steve Wynn’s band on guitar. They’re at Hank’s at 9 on 6/25.

 

6. Chris Cacavas – It’s All Over

Ominously swaying Americana rock with a southwestern gothic tinge from the ex-Green on Red keyboardist.

 

7. Maya Caballero – All Roads Lead to Here

Ethereal, hypnotic acoustic southwestern gothic.

 

8. Garden Gnome – Service with a Smile

Synth loop-driven prog rock, totally King Crimson except with keys.

 

9. Girl to Gorilla – Madeira

Fiery tuneful somewhat Social Distortion style rock. They’re at the National Underground on 6/27 at 11.

 

10. Biggie Smalls – St. Ides commercial

St. Ides is one of the most disgusting beers ever made. But it will get you very drunk. Thirty seconds’ worth of what made Biggie’s tummy so big.

June 23, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 6/2/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #421:

Steve Wynn – Invisible

The ultimate wee hours walk home song, bars all closed, sun coming up, and you’re feeling completely bulletproof:

 

I’m alone but I’m surrounded by predators and prey

They all turn to butter by the light of day

Nobody sees me as I spread their remains

On my toast in the morning

 

From the 1999 Pick of the Litter cd. By the way, Wynn and his band the Miracle 3 play the classic Dream Syndicate album The Medicine Show all the way through at the Bell House on 6/27 at 7:30 PM.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review – Pete Galub at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 4/22/09

If you want to play great guitar, watch this guy. This is somebody who once placed Comfortably Numb all the way through, solo onstage on electric guitar, as a funk instrumental. And it actually worked. Brilliantly, in fact. As a sideman, Pete Galub has a resume that would make a lot of guys blush, as Amy Allison’s once-and-future lead guitarist and as one of the original Extroverts in Greta Gertler’s band. That he’d pick up gigs with those two songwriters makes even more sense when you hear his own material: Galub can’t resist a clever pun or a playful musical jape and neither can those two. But he saves his most ferocious playing for his own stuff. Thursday night at Lakeside he put on a clinic in understatedly melodic powerpop and noise-rock guitar, two styles that you wouldn’t think would go well together, maybe, unless you were a Steve Wynn fan. In fact, it sounded a lot like Galub had been holed up with a bunch of Steve Wynn bootleg tracks, which as it turned out, he hadn’t. Then again, maybe the wheel was invented simultaneously by two different guys who barely knew each other.

 

Fast and furious as he can be, Galub didn’t waste any notes, choosing his spots judiciously before hitting his distortion pedal or shading the textures with a deft twist or two on the bass, the treble or the volume (subtlety is everything in this guy’s book). Backed by a subtle, in-the-pocket rhythm section, he’d start out with a low growl and then make his way methodically to the upper registers, adding a snarling, wailing, dirty ferocity, then backing off, then turning the demons loose again. Bending and twisting a series of richly sustained chords, sinuous pop and country licks, he’d go on for a couple of minutes and would still leave the crowd wanting more when he wrapped up the solo. The midtempo Big Star-inflected number that he played next-to-last turned into a launching pad for some pyrotechnics that sounded straight out of the Karl Precoda songbook. Perhaps somewhat fortuituosly, Galub closed the set with the slow, tongue-in-cheek 6/8 ballad Boy Gone Wrong ( the title track from his most recent solo cd), inviting up Steve Wynn lead player Jason Victor to join him. Victor took his time tuning up. “Is there something you’d like to promote?” Galub asked him, giving him a chance to plug a gig or two.

 

“Sleep,” Victor mumbled. Yet when the time came, Galub looked stage right and started pouncing on a quick series of chords, and Victor was right there to join him in a noisy duel just as he does in Wynn’s band. Galub held down the lows, wildly tremolo-picking until he’d built a roaring, whirring cauldron of sound, Victor chopping at his strings like the chainsaw killer in Last House on the Left. It wasn’t pretty but it was a blast to hear. The crowd roared for an encore and Galub reverted to quick, tersely effective powerpop mode. Suddenly choosing this gig over Devi (whose lead player is also a serious monster), who were playing at Shrine, seemed like the right choice this time around. Galub’s next gig is with Serena Jost’s band at 7:30 PM on Apr 29 at le Poisson Rouge; watch this space for his next as a bandleader.

April 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Steve Wynn – …tick…tick…tick

The best cd of 2006 was the one I didn’t review last year. No great surprise – always behind the eightball half the time. This is the concluding chapter of Wynn’s “desert trilogy” that began with 2001’s volcanic tour de force Here Come the Miracles, followed by the erratic but frequently brilliant Static Transmission. Steve Wynn is the Carl Yastrzemski of rock: he’s been so reliably good for so long that he gets taken for granted. Oh yeah, Steve Wynn, great live performer, hundreds of great songs, a gazillion albums. The guy from the Dream Syndicate. Yeah, him.

Yeah, this album. Unlike its two predecessors, it sounds like it was recorded old school, 1960s style in a couple of days’ time, everyone in the band coming in knowing exactly what they had to do and pinning the meter to the red when it was their turn to record. At this point in history, Wynn and his band the Miracle 3 are the best straight-up rock band in the world, bar none. Their live shows are legendary (check out the goodies up on archive.org), so much that it begs the question: why get a Steve Wynn studio album when you can hear him and band at their molten-lava best in concert or on a bootleg? Answer: their studio albums are shows unto themselves. For all I know, this one was probably recorded more or less live: at least that’s how it sounds. The band is more terse, more focused than ever, especially noisemeister Jason Victor on lead guitar and the nimble, inventive Dave DeCastro on bass. As usual, drummer Linda Pitmon distinguishes herself as the best in the business: like her idol Keith Moon, she’s all about surprise, throwing accents and rolls in when least expected, making the most seemingly random beats absolutely crucial to the song.

Wynn’s stock in trade is menace, and this album is no exception, from the title’s bomb reference to the hot pepper glowing fire engine red on the album cover. He gets a lot of Neil Young and Velvet Underground comparisons, and while both influences lurk in the background, three times removed, he’s established his own signature sound. It’s basic two-guitar, meat-and-potatoes rock, frequently based around a central riff (think the Stooges or Kinks), colored with all kinds of delicious noise and overtones, driven by a relentless, dark lyrical vision. There’s less guitar dueling here than there is in his most recent work, but the intensity is undiminished, from the cd’s pummeling opening cut Wired (“oh no, why am I wired this way?!?”) through its closing partita, the haunting No Tomorrow, a remarkably successful shot at ending the album on an uplifting note without getting stuck in cheese. Otherwise, it’s pretty much nonstop adrenaline. The album’s second cut, Cindy, It Was Always You features lyrics by acclaimed crime novelist (and screenwriter for HBO’s The Wire) George Pelecanos: it’s ostensibly a lament for the girl a guy never got, but Wynn delivers it with characteristically evil glee, sounding like a serial killer. The following cut, Freak Star continues in a similar vein, Victor and Wynn’s sinewy guitars coiling and uncoiling and licking the melody like flames around a gasoline tanker that’s just jackknifed on the freeway. Plenty of other good songs on the album: the darkly amusing, stomping Bruises (“I fall down easy but I get up slow/I really really hope that the bruises don’t show”); the macabre urban blues All the Squares Go Home, and the similar, quietly ominous Turning of the Tide.

There’s also the frenetic Wild Mercury, a worthy, out-of-control follow-up to Amphetamine, from Wynn’s previous album: Wynn has explained how this is what happens when guy from Amphetamine keeps doing what he’s doing and goes from blissed-out, adrenaline-fueled ecstasy to being utterly impossible to deal with. The album ends better than I thought it would after hearing most of these songs live. Its final cut is in two parts, the first a gorgeous, fast anthem, staring death straight down the middle of the blacktop. But then it morphs into a happily stomping retro 60s pop hit that owes more than a little to All the Young Dudes. And it works, because even though the mood changes, the band keeps cooking, all the way through. What remains is burned around the edges and very tasty, maybe something akin to the goat curry that Wynn credits for helping with the creative process out in Tucson where this and his previous two studio albums were recorded. Since being recorded, this album has been superseded by a live version, Live Tick, released in Europe last summer, all the more reason to pick up this one and then hear how they’ve mangled it even more. Wynn is back on his feet after a broken ankle and will appear on new albums coming out this year from Danny & Dusty and Smack Dab, so some area live appearances should be in store at some point.

May 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment