There was a point during the Dream Syndicate’s set at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival last night when bandleader Steve Wynn took a split-second pause to adjust a pedal during a menacing, lingering Telecaster solo. Without missing a beat, lead guitarist Jason Victor stepped in with some steady, light-fingered jangle and clang. What could have been a do-over for a lot of jambands turned into one of the evening’s most sublimely unanticipated moments.
Later, during an epic take of How Did I Find Myself Here – the title track of the band’s new album – Wynn pushed Victor about as far as a bandmate could without crossing the line into sadism. Victor didn’t flinch, building a razorwire thicket of sound with his tremolo-picking over the relentless, spring-loaded pulse of bassist Mark Walton and drummer Dennis Duck. It was the most intense of many similar interludes throughout the show: he and Wynn probably dueled out more machete chords during that song than you’d get in an entire Dick Dale concert. After the show, more than one person in the crowd called it transcendent.
That a band as iconic as the Dream Syndicate would sound even better now than back in the summer of 1986 at Maxwell’s, where they careened through a roughly 90-minute set weighted heavily with material from their Out of the Grey album, defies logic. One explanation is the presence of Victor, Wynn’s longtime sparring partner from his Miracle 3 band. Another is that this rhythm section are a lot slinkier now than they were thirty years ago. When Duck took a tongue-in-cheek quasi conga line break during a swingingly reinvented take of Armed With an Empty Gun, the effect dovetailed perfectly with Wynn’s sardonic lyric. Likewise, Walton’s looping groove in How Did I Find Myself Here – which is the band’s Can’t You Hear Me Knocking – was the icing on Wynn’s vast black-velvet tableau.
They opened with Halloween, the macabre, pulsing closing track on the band’s 1981 debut album. Wynn took the first solo, shifting effortlessly between icepick harmonics and ominous washes of reverb. For the most part, they kept the solos and dueling tantalizingly brief, from a pounding, Stoogoid take of Out of My Head to the hypnotically circling encore, Glide.
The early favorite Definitely Clean was slightly less frenetically paced than usual but no less adrenalizing. Walton teased the crowd with the famous bass intro to That’s What You Always Say, which when they got to it was more of a steady, satisfying upward climb than the time bomb of the album version.
Master of suspense that he is, Wynn found a new way to ramp up the intrigue in the frantically pounding would-be suicide jumper narrative The Days of Wine and Roses: he stopped it cold, midway through. And then surveyed the crowd, motionless with the rest of the band. A few laughs died away – how much more pregnant was this pause going to get? Triplets could have popped out in the time it took before Wynn leapt back in with a flash, the band finally taking it out in a blast of chord-chopping.
Another highlight was a stunningly restrained take of Filter Me Through You, from the new album, underscoring its bittersweetly elegaic imagery. Even in this band’s most exhilarating moments, the darkness never disappears: this song is one of Wynn’s most soulful. I won’t be here forever, he’s telling us: this is the beauty I’ve found here, and it’s yours if you want it.
Hot on the heels of this volcanic show, Wynn is characteristically flipping the script. His next gig is a solo acoustic house concert in Jersey City this Saturday, May 19, email for info.
As far as the rest of the festival was concerned, it was sad to miss the early afternoon set by incendiary Middle Eastern-inspired horror surf band Beninghove’s Hangmen. But it was fun to catch Richard Lloyd in “on” mode, making his way through a catchy mix of recent numbers and Television classics. Hometown guitar hero James Mastro – who seems to make it onto every single good bill here at the festival – held down the dirty rhythm while Lloyd spun out the hooks.