Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500

Galaxie 500 broke up in acrimonious circumstances twenty years ago. As Dean Wareham tells it, in his gossipy and insightful memoir Black Postcards (pp. 105–6):

Damon called first. My heart skipped a beat. The moment was upon me. I said don’t buy the tickets to Japan because I was leaving the band, and this time it was real.

They weren’t so nice and understanding this time. They were furious. There were three days of angry phone calls.… They stayed angry at me for a long time.

There are surely better ways to break up a band than (almost) out of the blue by phone, while planning the next tour, but Wareham’s motivations are understandable (feeling frustrated and confined in a trio with a ‘married voting-bloc’), as is the reaction of his bandmates. Whatever the final attribution of blame, it’s pretty clear that, while they might be able to negotiate civilly enough to manage the minor industry of Galaxie 500 reissues, they’re not going to get together for a reunion.

But people still have to pay the rent, which explains why Dean Wareham, backed by current Dean & Britta bandmates, is touring around under the rubric, ‘Dean Wareham plays Galaxie 500‘. Dutifully enough, Lizzie and I went along to see him last Sunday night at XOYO in Shoreditch. The venue wasn’t full, but it was crowded; the average age suggested most of the people there would have been aware of Galaxie 500 the first time around. (We noticed a few other visibly pregnant women, but probably most of the crowd had their older kids babysitting the younger ones…)

So it wasn’t Galaxie 500, but it was. Wareham’s voice (even higher, if that were possible, and surer now) and guitar work, and the heavy wash of reverb, were always distinctive and not easily reproduced, and were unmistakeable the other night. And while Naomi’s melodic bass playing and Damon’s suggestive rather than emphatic drumming were clearly centerpieces of the Galaxie 500 sound, they were adequately reproduced by the ringers on the night. It sounded like Dean Wareham and a proficient Galaxie 500 cover band who learned the songs off the records—which of course it was—and that was good enough for most of us.

It was an enjoyable night in a lot of ways. These songs still stand up after nearly 25 years, and they still obviously spoke to many in the audience, myself included. So what if Wareham’s solos were a little perfunctory, the banter half-hearted, and if Britta taking the lead vocal on ‘Listen, the snow is falling‘ was never going to be like Naomi’s charmingly quavery version? Everyone was there to suspend disbelief and imagine that Galaxie 500, somehow preserved in amber, were playing for us again.

But it was mildly depressing too. I’m as guilty as the rest of them, encouraging this widespread passion for indie rock nostalgia. And if we want to pay to see Dean Wareham play some songs he wrote nearly a quarter of a century ago, then who is he to refuse to take our money? We simply don’t like his own recent work enough to pay his bills. He’s lucky he’s got some beloved past work to fall back on, but of course it must be galling to be told, in effect: ‘you were much better then’.

I’ll collect the full set of Galaxie 500 members when I see Damon & Naomi play at Cafe Oto in a couple of weeks. They’re playing things from their new album, and I have to say I’m a lot more interested in what they’re doing now than I am in Dean & Britta. Also Damon will play a set with Richard Youngs, which I’m maybe looking forward too even more.

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