Saturday Night: Dean Wareham Plays Galaxie 500 at the Fillmore

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Dean Wareham
The Papercuts
November 13, 2010
@ The Fillmore

Better than:
Listening to On Fire and pretending someone could love you.

The rise of the Galaxie 500 cult is one of the many gratifications of onrushing rock geezerdom. Like that of many other music fans around during the trio's three-album 1988-91 run, my awareness of this short-lived, startlingly talented proto-indie band amounted to only a little more than intriguing background noise on MTV. By the time the trio's post-breakup compilation, The Portable Galaxie 500, came out on Rykodisc in 1998, most of the early-'90s shoegaze bands this group inspired had already vanished as well.

Hearing these half-remembered melodies and rousing psychedelic guitar runs afresh was a shock of the familiar and made me a stout retroactive admirer, name-dropping them in conversations and print, which was easy, since every other guitar-based pavement-psychedelic band to roll through Los Angeles in the last decade did their best to sound just like them. Drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang resurfaced as (who else?) Damon & Naomi, but their old band's reputation kept on growing. Covers, shout-outs, and encomiums came from Thurston Moore, British Sea Power, Liz Phair, Xiu Xiu, and further down the thrift-shop ranks of hipsterdom, a generous slice of which packed the Fillmore Saturday night to hear G5 singer/guitarist Dean Wareham play the old songs.

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The opener began with a familial tolerance, since the place was rapidly filling with hipsters, ages ranging between teenager and blastocyte during G5's brief rush at near-stardom. The Papercuts repaid the indulgence amply with smart and strenuous dream-pop played with road dog gusto even though it was still early in the tour. "I met a Baldwin in L.A.," confessed Jason Quever, unshaved, sweat-soaked, and fronting a four-piece that was already beginning to look like Grand Funk Railroad at its most highway-blighted, before going on to babble of Disneyland, a mere 90 traffic-clogged minutes away in Orange County. Their winsome and hyper-melodic pop got much love from the audience at the end, before Big Star burbled onto the P.A. and the wait began. 

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The lights went up and the headliner hurtled into "Flowers," backed by a band that includes Wareham's wife, Britta Phillips, on bass. Now in his late forties, the frontman is poised; his plaintive, nervous tenor has mellowed into something more incisive in the manner of Ray Davies. His guitar playing is better then ever, bringing astonishing sensitivity to the opening song and laying on whorls of dense, billowing sound on the next, "Snowstorm," off 1989's On Fire. That album, now revered as a founding indie-rock document, was again dipped into for "Decomposing Trees," a song Wareham admitted had something to do with eating acid at 7-11. 

The famously slowcore Vanilla Fudged whacks at Yoko Ono's "Listen the Snow is Falling" and "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste" by Jonathan Richman were especially well received. The cumulative effect of so much immersion in this narrow, gorgeous slice of late Cold War-era rock gave me a nice frisson about the time the band weighed into "Tugboat" -- a brief sense-immersion into another, arguably worse, time when mainstream music and politics sucked about as badly as now. The "there's a place I'd like to be" chorus was particularly sweet, as if we could all see the same place from there.

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Random notebook dump: "The star removes axe and gracefully exits for the ritual charade of encore. The audience gets time for a fairly respectful display of obscene, joyous howling & stomping."

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