The Dream Syndicate at Independent SF – December 16, 2017

The Dream Syndicate at the Independent SF
The Dream Syndicate at the Independent SF

My last rock show of the 2017 was Dream Syndicate at the Independent in SF, last Saturday, December 16. Dream Syndicate does not hold any particular significance for me (in fact I only bought the tickets because I thought The Muffs were opening) but it proved to be a meaningful and satisfying way to end the year in music. Dream Syndicate are an American Rock and Roll band from the 80s, who hadn’t performed in 20+ years, and suddenly reformed in 2012. I had not listened to Dream Syndicate before this year, but after checking them out on YouTube, and streaming some albums on Spotify, I was pretty sure this would be a good show. My hit was that in spite of, or because of, the intervening years, Dream Syndicate were fired up, having fun, and ready to rock. This turned out to be the case.

I wanted to get to SF a couple of hours before the show, and spend some time walking around the Haight and some of the places I used to hang out. The year I moved to San Francisco, 1984, was the year Dream Syndicate recorded their second studio album, Medicine Show, in San Francisco. In 1988 I moved to a studio apartment on Scott Street, just around the block from the Independent, which at that time was called the Kennel Club. I saw dozens of shows at the Kennel Club in the 80s and 90s, and this would be my first time back in that space in quite a while. That section of Divisadero used to be pretty sketchy – but you know the story – now it’s packed with trendy looking eateries and bars.

The Independent has changed somewhat, too, though the space was fundamentally similar. The main change was relocating the bar, which was in the center of the club, to the back wall opposite the stage, which to be honest is a better layout.

As I mentioned, I bought the tickets by mistake, because I thought the Muffs – who I adore – were going to be the supporting act. I guess I didn’t read the fine print closely enough, because the Muffs were not on this part of the tour, which I didn’t find out until a day or two before the show, much to my disappointment. The actual opening act for Saturday’s show was Psychic Temple, a rock combo led by Chris Schlarb. Schlarb looked like a 70s icon with long wavy hair, sunglasses and a white suit. He told a lot of dorky jokes, and shared some interesting anecdotes about Don Henley. I didn’t really connect with Psychic Temple, but they were some fine musicians. There were strains of early Traffic as well as Steely Dan. They had a pretty awesome pedal steel player, and the keyboard player doubled on violin. So they were a perfectly enjoyable opening act.

I was pretty amused at the crowd. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a show with so many old guys and gals. I mean, it was nice in a way to be surrounded by folks in my age bracket, out for a night of rock and roll. But a lot of the bands I follow tend to have a younger audience. I struck up a conversation with a couple of guys who like me had attended shows there in the 80s and 90s. The one guy told us how he lived in the building next door to the Kennel Club, and he would climb onto the roof of the club, and watch shows through the skylight. We looked up to the cieling, and there was his skylight, still intact!

So this show was the end of a year or so of touring for the Dream Syndicate, and it was clear they intended to go out on a high note. Musically, Dream Syndicate is pretty straightforward, grungy rock. They have a fat, bluesy stoner sound, reminiscent of Velvet Underground or Tom Petty. The rhythm section of Mark Walton on bass and Dennis Duck on drums were killing it, laying down a driving foundation. Wynn and Jason Victor on guitar crunched, squealed and jammed with distorted abandon. Thematically Steve Wynn’s songs deal with low lives, sex and love, alienation, self-doubt, e.g. all the basic American themes. The songs are built on some great hooks, Wynn’s angst-y howls, and relentless and often lengthy jams. It all works rather beautifully, and I was totally satisfied.

There were a number of special (very special?) guests joining the performance. Steve Cacavas who has worked with Dream Syndicate as a producer played the keyboards. Linda Pitmon joined about halfway through to provide vocals on Filter Me Through You from their latest album, How Did I Find Myself Here. Medicine Show was a real barn burner. The set ended with Days of Wine and Roses which was similarly devastating. They played a couple more songs for an encore and then they brought out Kendra Smith, one of the founding band members, who provided vocals for her contribution to How Did I Find Myself Here, appropriately titled Kendra’s Dream. Not being an old-time Dream Syndicate fan, it didn’t have quite the significance for me, but it was pretty cool cuz I’m pretty sure Kendra did not appear at many other dates from this tour.

So, good-bye 2017. Glad it went out on a high musical note, with added bonus of visiting my old turf. Although 2017 sucked in many ways for the planet, and for me on a personal level, I did see and hear a lot of good music, which helped a lot. Here’s wishing for a better 2018 for all of us!

Fall 2017 – Upcoming Shows

Hey music fans, what’s going on? Apparently I haven’t seen any shows since Burger Boogalo in July – sad! But there’s a bunch of cool shows coming up in the next few months. Here’s a list of bands I’m planning to see, or which sound interesting to me.

EMA Is Coming to Rickshaw Stop SF on October 30

Saturday, September 9, 2017 – Hell’s Belles (AC/DC Tribute Band) at Catalyst Club Santa Cruz. All girl AC/DC cover band. Even if they sucked it would be awesome, but I checked them out on YouTube and they’re the real deal. Angus approved!

Saturday, September 23, 2017 – Horrible/Adorable at The Ivy Room, Albany. I wrote about Horrible/Adorable here. They’ll be opening for some other band. I’m not sure I’ll make it up to Albany for this show, but it’s tempting!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 – Death Valley Girls at Catalyst Club Santa Cruz. I missed Death Valley Girls last year at Burger Boogaloo. Now they’re coming to my local establishment, so I’m planning to check it out.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017 – Rainer Maria at The Chapel, SF. I don’t really know that much about Rainer Maria, but I love that song Catastrophe Keeps Us Together. I think this would be a cool show, and a rare opportunity to see this iconic band, but not sure I’ll make it up to SF.

Tuesday, October 24 – Alvvays at Fillmore SF. Bought my tickets already. Love their first album, and I’m sure the new one will be awesome, too.

Saturday, October 28, 2017 – Slowdive at The Fox Theatre. I confess, I don’t really know anything about Slowdive, but I think I could be a fan if I gave it a chance. Also, Fox Theatre in Oakland is one of the best places to see shows. Don’t think I’m going to go since I already have tickets for two shows in SF the same week. But you should go!

Monday, October 30 – EMA at Rickshaw Stop, SF. I am so excited for this show. Her brilliant third album, Exile in the Outer Ring, dropped a couple of weeks ago. I love EMA’s music, and her ideas, and I think this show is going to be brilliant. The Blow are also on the bill, and they look cool, too.

Saturday, November 18 – Speedy Ortiz at Bottom of the Hill SF. Sort of college radio darlings, fronted by smart and aware Sadie Dupuis. I’ve seen them three times already, and I like to support them, cuz Sadie is so cool.

Saturday, December 16 – Richard Thomson at Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Richard Thomson. A genius on the guitar, great voice and great song writing. Will try to make this show as I’m trying to see all shows by bands I like at the Rio.

Any shows you’re excited about – please share.