As Dean Wareham’s recent memoir, Black Postcards testifies, life as the figurehead of late-’80s/early-’90s masters of minimalist dreamcore trio Galaxie 500 wasn’t always a bag of laughs. His severance from drummer/bass couple Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang after 1991’s This Is Our Music album was well-documented at the time in acrid, tit-for-tat interviews; both parties blaming the other for the sudden curtain fall on what many considered to be one of the most unique and brilliant exports of American alternative rock. Twenty years on from the split, Wareham’s decision to take his old band’s catalogue on tour with a new line-up that includes his wife (and former bassist in Wareham’s post- Galaxie 500 combo, Luna) Britta Philips, therefore comes as something of a blue thunderbolt to old G500 fans like me. Surely these songs are coated in a thick dust of malevolence?
Perhaps this is some kind of exorcism; Wareham’s attempt to somehow reclaim the songs which Krukowski and Yang have owned since buying the masters at auction when their label, Rough Trade, went bankrupt in 1991? In fact, it’s pretty clear within the first few bars of ‘Pictures’ that Wareham isn’t going to give us a Galaxie 500 show. The skeleton of these songs may remain but there’s new flesh on the bones. The four-piece band dispenses with the original trio’s precious, youthful timidity and the onceglacial pace has been notched up a gear or two; the former dreamy, empyrean sacrosanctity never even unpacked from the flight case. It’s incredible, therefore, that this packed house, plenty of them too young to have ìknownî Galaxie 500 back in the day, is so plainly bedazzled tonight.
In a stiff-starched pink shirt, Wareham cuts a handsome, though somewhat twitchy figure, seldom audience-facing, shut-eyed, his once-tremulous falsetto now deeply cemented in place. It’s his guitar playing that really steals the applause, all fluid, squalling, pentatonic riffs, as favoured by the likes of the Velvet Underground and Jonathan Richman (forbears, both piously covered by G500). Tonight’s rendition of Richman’s ‘Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste’ is wonderfully noisy, messy even, but Wareham’s voice again betrays his apparent nonchalance. He loves these songs and he’s bringing them home. Not that he’ll need extra luggage allowance. The beauty of G500 songs was their simplicity: three chords would often suffice. The words were never going to change your life (ìI wrote a poem on a dog biscuit/But your dog refused to look at itî, is a typical slice of non-profundity on the song ‘Fourth Of July’) but there was always this unexplainable halo of blue melancholy surrounding G500; like being awoken by the sound of falling snow. And this early morning, winter blueness is still embedded in Wareham, whether he likes it or not. Glen Johnson
Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500 again at XOYO, London on Sunday 24th April