Friday, June 07, 2013

California dreaming: The Dream Syndicate vs. The Allah-Las, live in Athens (June 1 & May 31, 2013)

The Dream Syndicate, live @ Gagarin 205 (June 1, 2013)
Music has a unique way to make our concept of time completely irrelevant. A brand new band with a recently released debut album can easily give you the impression that a '60s garage-surf party is taking place right in front of your eyes, making you doubt not only about the date shown on your smartphone but also about the fact that such a device exists. On the other hand, a band that you haven’t seen live in 25 years, can make its comeback and start playing its own debut record from the dawn of the '80s (1982 to be exact) with the same urgency and passion you hazily remember from those days and all of a sudden you’re taken over by the exact same thrill you felt as a teenager, making the live experience every bit as vital now, in the age of smartphones and digital media.

The Allah-Las, live @ Fuzz Club (May 31, 2013)
The main protagonists of these mind-boggling, time-warping live events that had us questioning the calendar were two bands that represent the present and past of California rock, covering a big part of its history, from the '60s to the present day. The start was at Fuzz Club on Friday (May 31st), with fresh-faced '60s revivalists The Allah-Las and the culmination was at Gagarin 205 the following night (June 1st) with the recently reformed '80s cult legends The Dream Syndicate.

The Allah-Las sound is firmly rooted in '60s surf and garage and doesn’t seem to acknowledge anything that has happened past 1969. The good news is that their dedication to the most prolific decade in the history of rock and their unquestionable talent has yielded a strong batch of memorable songs that sound almost as good as the real deal. There’s no shame in appropriating the style of another era as long as you make good use of your chosen genre’s strengths and The Allah-Las have unquestionably done a pretty good job in their eponymous debut album, which has proven to be quite popular among Greek indie-rock fans. On the other hand, the possibility that there will be an audience willing to listen again to this record live sometime around 2043 seems pretty slim. The Allah-Las have something good going on, but at the moment they seem too constricted by their influences to create their own classic.

Miles Michaud of The Allah-Las
Back in 1982 The Dream Syndicate made their debut with the incendiary LP "The Days of Wine and Roses". At the time, the band was considered to be a part of Paisley Underground, the primarily West Coast underground rock movement that brought back '60s psychedelia and folk rock. Although the '60s influence was certainly central to The Dream Syndicate sound, it would be a mistake to dub them as revivalists. The energy of the era’s punk rock was just as important in shaping their first record, while Steve Wynn’s songwriting strengths and the derailed, passionate rocking of the quartet (which also included drummer Dennis Duck, guitarist Karl Precoda and bassist Kendra Smith) resulted in an album that not only stood out as one of the definitive works of 1982, but quickly became an important reference point in the '80s US underground rock canon.

The Dream Syndicate, live @ Gagarin 205
It was this record’s 30th anniversary last year that prompted Steve Wynn to bring the band back together again (with original drummer Dennis Duck, mid-to-late '80s bass player Mark Walton and, new to the fold, Jason Victor on guitar), and, naturally, it was this record's nine glorious tracks that formed the first part of The Dream Syndicate’s first show in Athens in 25 years. Any doubts about the ability of the 2013 version of the band to do justice to the material were quickly dispelled after the first notes of "Tell Me When It's Over" and for the next 45 minutes the Days of Wine and Roses were here again. I have no doubt that if a new band was able to make such a powerful record today, we would all be hailing the new heroes and saviors of guitar rock. In an era where every new group (not only The Allah-Las) seems to be looking backwards for inspiration, The Dream Syndicate deserve to be heard carefully again; you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of how a band can mine the past and come up with its own timeless classic.

The hour and a half after the live presentation of "The Days of Wine and Roses" from start to finish, was a “best of” set culled from the rest of the band’s equally important body of work, from 1984’s "Medicine Show" ("Daddy's Girl", "Burn", "Bullet with My Name on It", the ever present in Wynn’s live sets "The Medicine Show" and the orgiastic "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" that was the triumphant finale of the show) and 1986’s "Out of the Grey" ("Forest for the Trees" and personal favorites "Boston" and "Now I Ride Alone") to their 1988 swan song "Ghost Stories" ("The Side I'll Never Show", "My Old Haunts", "Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin", "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" and "When the Curtain Falls"). The Dream Syndicate brought back the dream of some of the best moments of '80s rock - music just too powerful and vital to fade away.

The two local bands that supported The Dream Syndicate were exactly the pair that played with them at their last Athens show in 1988. The Jaywalkers kicked off the proceedings (unfortunately we missed their set) and The Last Drive, living legends of the Greek rock scene, continued with a strong set that combined new with classic material (some of it was produced by former Dream Syndicate guitarist Paul B. Cutler).

The Last Drive, live @ Gagarin 205 (June 1, 2013)
The support for The Allah-Las gig came from psychedelic popsters My Drunken Haze and here is where you can get their new single "Gambling Woman", while here is their previous EP "Pleasing Illusions".

My Drunken Haze, live @ Fuzz Club (May 31, 2013)
The Dream Syndicate - Now I Ride Alone (live @ Gagarin 205)

The Dream Syndicate - The Days of Wine and Roses (live @ Gagarin 205)

The Last Drive - Have Mercy (live @ Gagarin 205)

The Allah Las - Tell Me (What's On Your Mind) (live @ Fuzz Club)

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