CMJ Report: Galaxie 500

Brian Waligorski

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Dean Wareham plays the music of Galaxie 500 (Bowery Ballroom 10/22/2010)

Galaxie 500‰’s career arc reads like a college rock mad lib: three Harvard students get together, record three albums beloved by critics and overlooked by everyone else, and break up within the span of five years, only to have their characteristic sound take root in modern indie music. Beach House, My Morning Jacket, The Shins, and Yo La Tengo are just a few of the bands who have been influenced by the dream pop trio‰’s sublime output. Those in attendance at the Bowery Ballroom last Friday got the chance to give the band the appreciation they deserved during their run from 1987 to 1991. More precisely, they had the opportunity to witness Dean Wareham – singer, songwriter, lead guitarist, and the major creative force behind Galaxie 500 ‰ÛÒ perform a entire set of Galaxie 500 songs with the help of his wife Britta Phillips on bass, and a drummer and extra guitarist to fill out the lineup and recreate the band‰’s distinctive indie rock-on-Quaaludes approach.

Downbeat, dreamy guitar pop may not be the sort of music that normally get fists pumping, but you wouldn‰’t know it from the packed Bowery Ballroom. Those in attendance were amped to see these reverb-coated gems in a live setting, and Dean Wareham was often seen with a grin, pleased, maybe, that this gorgeous music was finally getting some attention. The band kicked things off with “Flowers‰Û, the first song off the band‰’s first album (and recorded with fellow Harvard classmate Conan O‰’Brien‰’s drumset), and the song was a template for much of the music to follow that night: melodic basslines and midtempo rhythms chugged along while Wareham‰’s vocals shifted back and forth between affectless murmurings to a yearning nasal falsetto, with the song culminating in a radiant guitar solo that seemed positively volcanic compared to the slow shuffle that preceded it. Wareham sang about his car, weather forecasts, taking acid and looking at his toes, taking acid and eating Twinkies, and staying in on the 4th of July, demonstrating his lyrical ability to mix the mundane with the bizarre. The concert also showcased Galaxie 500‰’s ability to take a someone else‰’s song and wholly incorporate it into their sound, performing covers of The Modern Lovers‰’ “Don‰’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste‰Û, The Rutles‰’ “Cheese and Onions‰Û, and ending their set with Joy Division‰’s “Ceremony‰” ‰ÛÒ quite possibly the best Joy Division cover out there. As “Ceremony‰” wound down, the audience responded with thunderous applause and cheers, and Galaxie 500‰’s music finally received the enthusiasm that had eluded them two decades ago.