Every so often, Cleveland gets a unique show as part of a national tour. Last night’s Dream Syndicate show at the Beachland Ballroom was even more special: It was one of only four U.S. dates the cult Paisley Underground band is doing this fall on the heels of its reunion shows overseas. But despite playing in front of a criminally small crowd, the Dream Syndicate — core member Steve Wynn, mid-‘80s members Dennis Duck and Mark Walton, and Wynn’s solo-band mate Jason Victor — displayed little rust.
That’s partly because Wynn still plays many of these songs live during his solo sets. However, the timeless nature of the band’s music also played a role; as last night reinforced, the Dream Syndicate always took from a broader, more ambitious palette of influences than many of its peers. The set touched on bar-band blues (“50 In A 25 Zone”), slinky cabaret jazz (“Until Lately”), careening punk (“Then She Remembers,” prefaced by Wynn with, “We played some punk rock at Peabody’s back in the day”) and twanging post-punk (“Definitely Clean”).
Wynn sounded even more like Lou Reed than usual, especially on the spiraling “Tell Me When It’s Over”; his elongated vocal cadences and drawling enunciation made the song feel like a lost Velvet Underground classic. But he was far from a nonchalant frontman: On the sinister set highlight “Halloween,” he looked like a mad scientist, from his wild-eyed delivery to the way he alchemized meticulous riffs from his guitar, while the galloping, distortion-fueled “The Days Of Wine And Roses” sped like a freight train screaming out of control.
While purists may have lamented the absence of Kendra Smith or Karl Precoda, guitarist Victor was a formidable addition to this Dream Syndicate lineup. His piercing guitar drove the power-jangle-psych of “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” and the sinister “That’s What You Always Say,” and his hands often hovered over his guitar so fast, they looked like a hummingbird’s wings. Keyboardist Josh Kantor (who played with opening band Split Squad and doubles as the Boston Red Sox’s organist) also augmented performances of several songs from Medicine Show; most notably, he added deceptively upbeat organ to “Still Holding On To You” and piano to the mellow, melancholy “Burn.”
When the band came out for an encore, Wynn quipped, “We’re far from done.” This was no exaggeration: After Medicine Show’s “Merrittville” (which again featured Kantor adding piano), the group launched into “John Coltrane Stereo Blues.” Last night’s version of the song wasn’t quite the epic length it’s been in the past, but it hardly mattered — the song touched on sprawling guitar jams, Sonic Youth-styled noise improv, a cappella music and abstract blues. At one point, the din from the stage sounded like a jet taking off, it was that loud; at another point, drummer Duck and bassist Walton dropped out of the mix, leaving Victor and Wynn at center stage to unfurl a duet full of white noise.
Some groups reunite for money; some get back together to reclaim past glories; others come back to resolve unfinished business. The Dream Syndicate’s set last night felt like none of the above; it was a celebratory excavation of classic songs that deserve to be heard by a wider audience.
Opening band the Split Squad — Kantor, Fleshtones guitarist/vocalist Keith Streng, Plimsouls guitarist Eddie Munoz, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and Parallax Project vocalist/bassist Michael Giblin — was the perfect opening act. The group shimmied through a set touching on glam, garage-rock, power-pop, Nuggets-style psych and British Invasion rock. A Small Faces cover (“Sorry She’s Mine”) and a ripping version of the Sonics’ “Have Love, Will Travel” (featuring a guest spot from Victor) set a raucous tone that endured until the very end of the show, when Streng jumped off the stage and hopped on top of a table on the floor, all the while playing his guitar.
Dream Syndicate Setlist:
“When You Smile”
“That’s What You Always Say”
“See That My Grave Is Kept Clean”
“Still Holding On To You”
“Then She Remembers”
“50 In A 25 Zone”
“Tell Me When It’s Over”
“The Days Of Wine And Roses”
“John Coltrane Stereo Blues”