Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dean and Britta at Carnegie Lecture Hall: A quick debriefing in which I confess some disappointment

Posted By on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 2:30 PM

Like many of you -- but not TOO many of you, sadly, as the venue was woefully underfilled -- I went to see Dean & Britta perform the songs of Galaxie 500 last weekend at the Carnegie Lecture Hall in a concert put on by the Warhol. It's been bandied about by the local music blogosphere a bit already -- Hugh took some great photos (plus more of Meeting of Important People's opening set), and Draw Us Lines' Brendan Sullivan presented his take as well. In the interest of furthering the conversation, here's my two cents.

Galaxie 500 is one of my favorite bands. And I really like Dean & Britta -- as a band, and as super congenial folks who gave me a great interview a couple years back. As a big Galaxie fan, I got a lot out of this show: I heard a lot of songs that I never thought I'd see performed live, at least with Dean singing. That rush of adrenaline that comes when a song you're used to hearing in the flat tone of your MP3 player headphones comes to life in a room with a bunch of other people is electrifying, and it definitely took hold when the band kicked into, say, "Strange."

But my question -- quite sincerely, I'm not being snarky here -- is: Is Dean Wareham having fun playing these songs?

The performance was pretty much spot-on as far as recreating the records goes, and Dean's falsetto has held up better than I'd have expected. It was exciting in that respect. But something -- and maybe it was the environment (I hate seeing rock shows in seated auditoriums, beautiful as the Lecture Hall is) -- seemed to flatten the performance. Even the raucous feedback sections seemed planned, played but not necessarily "felt."

Galaxie 500's body of work was the product of a few young people writing acid-tinged songs of simplicity and naivete; 20-odd years later, it's surely hard to conjure the mindset that originally produced them. And to be fair, the relationship that most of us in the audience have with those songs at this point is probably much closer and more intimate than Dean Wareham's is despite the fact that he wrote them. He's moved on, and probably doesn't listen to his own songs from the '80s while he's waiting for the bus, or driving to the store, or entering data at work, like we do.

The songs are wide-eyed and sometimes absurd and conjure a walk amidst swirling snowflakes or towering trees. The performance, though, was, more often than not, like a rehearsal: more about hitting notes than creating atmosphere. If I weren't already a fan of these songs, I fear I wouldn't have enjoyed this show -- and that shouldn't be the case, even with a reunion/redux type show.

I felt like the most passionate connections he made with the music occurred when the band played cover songs: The Joy Division song "Ceremony," Jonathan Richman's "Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste," even the Bob Dylan-via-Nico song "I'll Keep It With Mine," which Dean & Britta resurrected in gorgeous fashion for the 13 Most Beautiful project. And it's understandable -- he chose those songs to cover on his albums for a reason. They speak to him. And Galaxie originals speak to us -- through him.

I don't have 20 years between me and anything I've produced (except some kindergarten drawings or whatever), but on a much smaller scale, I'd imagine playing the songs my previous band -- which existed from 2004-2006 -- wrote would feel weird. I've revisited those songs from time to time, and still like them, but don't feel them the way I once did, or the way some others might, if anyone remembers us and listens to those records at this point.

I saw the '80s pre-industrial band Savage Republic a few years back, and blogged about them seeming bored, then soon got a comment from one of the members assuring me they had fun. But I tend to wonder how fun it really is -- or how deeply it is fun, if that makes sense -- to play your songs from decades ago on tour. It's a point of tension in the musician-music-audience relationship, I suppose, that's nothing new (think about Steely Dan fans screaming out for "Reelin' In the Years" and Fagan getting angry because he only wants to be playing "Cousin Dupree" or whatever).

In summation: I was satisfied by the show, I was pleased by the show, and I'll go see Dean & Britta again next time they're in town (which, fortunately for us, has been pretty often in recent years). But I didn't feel this show deeply. I'm not sure that I should or could have expected otherwise, or if I did. I'd go see it again, but it might not make my year-end top ten list, and if not, now you know why.



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