Dean Wareham

Live review: Dean Wareham, St Pancras Old Church

Published on December 9th, 2013 | Theo Gorst

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Dean Wareham, in London to support the release of his first solo recording the Emancipated Hearts EP, infamously had his first and arguably most treasured band Galaxie 500 described as “Jonathan Richman being backed by The Velvet Underground”.

Seeing the former frontman cover songs by both artists really does highlight the similarities. Wareham combines some of Richman’s self-assured naivety with the melancholia of a slow Lou Reed number.

Take “Blue Thunder” for example, one of a handful of Galaxie 500 classics played. The track starts with a slow strum similar to that of a subdued after-hours Velvets tune, yet where Reed would sooth Wareham instead deals in anguish.

It’s a thrilling disconnect that is made all the more powerful in a venue such as St Pancras Old Church. Low-lit lamps create a warm glow that juxtaposes the emotional anguish of Wareham’s older songs, the songs of a 20-year-old dealing with the politics of relationships and the responsibilities of adulthood.

Despite being sung by a middle-aged, married man, their emotional intensity is as powerful as ever. The cries that close the track are unflinching explosions of emotional release, sounding as harrowing as it was unexpected on first play.

The Galaxie 500 tracks receive both the fondest reception but also depict Wareham at his most anxious; as such, the comfort of Luna is perfectly complimentary. Luna’s “Lost In Space” has waves of jazzy instrumentation, gently rising and falling, while Wareham’s now-softly-imploring voice rides atop.

For Galaxie 500 a sonic climax seemed to untangle the inexplicable emotional questions asked within the song, and the endings are bought to life excellently in a live setting, Wareham’s chemistry with his touring band making tracks like “Tugboat” and “Temperature’s Rising” gloriously emotive.

It’s music that leads to reflecting, sometimes uncomfortably so as on “Tugboat”, and at other times triggering fonder memories such as on Lou Reed cover “Ride Into the Sun”. Either way, Wareham evokes differing emotions with aplomb as he delves into his quietly devastating back catalogue.

The New Yorker’s sonic pallet deals in brush-strokes that represent a night-time ambience, be that the introspective distress of Galaxie 500 or instead the dreamy warmth of Luna. Conveniently his latest release, much like the set he plays, works marvellously as a retrospective glance at his career to date.

The EP’s eponymous track incorporates a programmed drum beat, absent from his first band, yet has a steadily propulsive ending where guitars swirl into shoegazey contemplation.

Looking back Wareham’s sound is easily distinguishable, regardless of whether this comes through an original track or a cover. Despite the numerous songs he has covered from a diverse range of bands (including Kraftwerk, Beat Happening and infamously New Order), each interpretation sounds distinct to Wareham.

The Incredible String Band’s “Air”, featured on his latest EP, fits neatly next to Jonathan Richman’s “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste”.

The former revolves around a heartfelt hummed refrain, while the latter marks the point at which slowcore buries itself in a myriad of layers: cymbals crash, bass pulsates and Wareham throws his head back as he plays an intricate guitar line reminiscent of fellow New Yorkers Television.

Indeed tonight’s show confirms that his latest offering works as a continuation of an excellent back catalogue, one that should be seen as part of the lineage of classic American Indie, alongside the aforementioned Jonathan Richman and Lou Reed.

Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!

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About the Author

Living on a sonic diet of Belle and Sebastian, Pavement and Yo La Tengo, Theo resides in London and when not writing for Rocksucker studies English at Goldsmiths University.