Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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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

CD Review: Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra: Live in Brussels

For a lot of artists, a show like this would be the high point of a career. For Steve Wynn, it’s just another night on the road. This lush, richly beautiful live album is notable for the fact that the noir rock legend plays it not with his usual backing band the Miracle 3 but instead with much of the crew on his most recent studio cd Crossing Dragon Bridge: Chris Eckman from iconic art-rockers the Walkabouts on guitar (who makes a formidably terse sparring partner with Wynn on several noise jams), former Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas, bassist Eric Van Loo, the irreplaceable, Keith Moon-inspired Linda Pitmon on drums and violinist Rodrigo D’Erasmo, who does a mighty job standing in for the full orchestra behind Wynn on much of the cd. After practically thirty years playing ferocious guitar-driven rock, he went deep into ornate art-rock, and this maintains that feel.

Ornate though it may be, it rocks almost as hard as his hardest stuff: the stark violin tones of the intro, Slovenian Rhapsody Pt. 1 something of a false start, though it sets an ominous tone very effectively. Then everything picks up with a particularly menacing version of the SoCal car cruising anthem Bring the Magic, the Beach Boys through a twisted minor-key funhouse mirror. He gets even more menacing with an almost tongue-in-cheek version of the come-on God Doesn’t Like It, then insistent and down-to-earth with the wise existentialist ballad Here on Earth As Well. With D’Erasmo’s violin leading the way, Tears Won’t Help (opening cut on Wynn’s first full-length album, Kerosene Man) takes on a gorgeously rustic country flavor. The best song on the cd is the one we rated as best song of 2008, the anguished, bitter I Don’t Deserve This. This time, the band does it as a whirling, psychedelic dirge including a screaming noise rock solo from Wynn into the bridge, where suddenly he has an epiphany and then it winds up with another swirling cauldron of noise.

From there, the album could be anticlimactic, but it’s not, testament to the depth of Wynn’s catalog. Punching Holes in the Sky is just Wynn on acoustic and the violin, riveting and intense. “Some things just get better and better/Some things don’t – whatever!” the stalker disingenuously grins to the clueless chick he’s trying to pick up on the ragtime-inflected Wait Until You Get to Know Me. Among the best of the other cuts here – there are too many to enumerate – are a suspenseful solo acoustic version of the classic Silence Is Your Only Friend, a rare version of the blistering anthem 405 with a brutal duel between Wynn and Eckman and the last of the encores, Amphetamine, reinvented as less of a noise jam than full-on orchestral maelstrom, something akin to the Doctors of Madness on…um…take a guess. What else is there to say – put this one in the pantheon and look for it on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Until Wynn decides to bring the equally extraordinary but completely different Live Tick cd from 2006 back into print, this one will do just fine.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

CD Review: Steve Wynn – Crossing Dragon Bridge

Like his colleagues Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello, Steve Wynn has a richly prolific body of work, dating to the early 80s and the pioneering noise-rock band the Dream Syndicate. Although Wynn rocks harder than those other two artists, he’s equally competent at darkly gentle acoustic stylings and slashingly lyrical songwriting. Whenever he puts out a new cd (almost every year, it seems), it’s always amusing to read the reviews: everything seems to be Wynn’s best in a long, long time. Well, his most recent solo studio cd before this one was …tick…tick…tick (reviewed here in our earliest days last year) and that one was killer. So is this. While not everything Wynn touches – from Danny and Dusty, his wildly carousing duo project with Green on Red founder Dan Stuart, or the Baseball Project band he has with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey – is visionary, this cd is. It seems that every great songwriter eventually ends up playing orchestrated rock, and Wynn’s first venture into this kind of uncharted territory ranks with his finest work. Time may judge this a classic.

 

In a drastic departure from Wynn’s usual MO in the studio, producer Chris Eckman (leader of another extraordinary, long-running band, the Walkabouts) was insistent on getting Wynn to play as many instruments as he could by himself, rather than utilizing the skills of his snarling backup band the Miracle 3). The result here blends lot of acoustic guitar and some electric piano with lush, epic string arrangements that take Wynn’s dark, frequently ominous songs to new levels of majestic grandeur. Perhaps in keeping with the time-honored tradition of 70s art-rock, the cd begins and ends with a “Slovenian Rhapsody.” “On my own again, haunted by the rain,” is the opening line of its second part, encapsulating Wynn’s signature style with characteristically terse understatement.

 

The first full-length song on the cd is Manhattan Fault Line, a false start of sorts: it’s an attempt to transpose the ever-present LA earthquake threat to the opposite coast, and ultimately it sinks under its own gravitas. The rest of the cd, however, is another story. Driven by a relentless minor-key groove, Love Me Anyway gets thisclose to desperation without falling over the edge. Then there’s a subdued cover by a Slovenian folksinger that sounds like something Wynn could have written in his early post Dream Syndicate days, and the strikingly optimistic When We Talk About Forever, a big acoustic ballad in 6/8 with those gorgeous strings. Wynn’s vocals have never been stronger than they are on this cd, and this song resonates confidence, yet with apprehension lurking in the background.

 

The next track, Annie & Me is just acoustic guitar and drum machine, sort of Kooks by Bowie updated for an older couple a decade or three later. The noir cabaret number Wait Until You Get to Know Me is Wynn at his menacing best, the leering tale of a sinister would-be ladykiller who won’t take no for an answer. The levels come down a bit after that but the darkness remains with Punching Holes in the Sky, sparse minor-key acoustic guitar playing against the orchestra:

 

Strip away the mystery

Lash out at the night

Strip away the storyline

But can I make it right?

 

Wynn picks up the pace after that with the equally menacing, somewhat hallucinatory Bring the Magic and the strange God Doesn’t Like It (is the song’s bullying narrator to be taken at face value, or is this satire?), then brings it down again with the somewhat breathless, plainspoken nonconformist anthem Believe in Yourself. As Wynn frequently does, he saves the best for last here with I Don’t Deserve This, a big, brooding, absolutely sinister epic building from eerie tremolo guitar and electric piano to mammoth proportions. It’s a bitter, anguished tale of being unable to get away from the enemy, whoever that may be, literal or figurative, and it’s simply one of the three or four most exhilarating, resonant songs released this year. “Violence tricks my ears,” Wynn notes matter-of-factly as the second Slovenian Rhapsody brings the cd to a close.

 

Like most New York-based artists, Wynn’s shows here in town have become infrequent: like everybody else, he makes his money on the road. For those in LA this weekend, Steve Wynn plays the Cinema Bar, 3967 Sepulveda Blvd. in Culver City, 310-390-1328 on Nov 29. 

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Music, 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