Performed a week before laying down The Days of Wine and Roses, this September 1982 live set provides a career bookend to the Dream Syndicate's 1989 set Live at Raji's (and later expanded as The Complete Live at Raji's). Recorded at Los Angeles radio station KPFK's Studio Zzzz, the 2am start gave the paisley underground's leading lights (including Green on Red, the Rain Parade and Bangles) an opportunity to attend, and all were treated to a band whose nine-month public career had quickly brought them to both artistic and critical prominence. The set list included all four titles from their debut EP, the title song of The Days of Wine and Roses, an early sketch of 1984's "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" (under the title "Open Hour"), and covers of Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan and Donovan.
The band eases into the set with a sedate version of "Some Kinda Itch," transforming the original's frenetic energy into a relaxed Doors/Velvets-styled late-night jam. The set adds low-stringed weight with the band's take on "Mr. Soul," and really starts to gain momentum with "Sure Thing." What listeners will quickly realize - and what the in-studio audience must have felt - is that this isn't a simple recitation of the band's catalog, but a carefully crafted live set. The playlist builds tension by allowing the tempo, volume and instrumental ferocity to surge and ebb, skillfully winding its way to the climactic debut of "The Days of Wine and Roses." Throughout the evening (well, morning) Steve Wynn charms the audience with humor and an easy manner that belies his relatively few years in front of audiences.
The band gets stronger as the set progresses, and they rip into Dylan's Bringing it All Back Home-era "Outlaw Blues" with Karl Precoda stressing his guitar in ways the folks at Newport could scarcely have imagined. That turns out to be only a warm-up, as "Open Hour" (in one of its first run-throughs) is stretched into an instrumental jam that showcases Precoda's feedback-laced guitar work. "When You Smile" turns its melody into an atmospheric howl that underlines the song's quiet introduction and portends the aural storm on the horizon. The set wraps with a primal eight-minute cover of "Season of the Witch," and closes at 3am with Precoda's guitar in full pyrotechnic glory for "The Days of Wine and Roses."
More than thirty years later, the performances retain their power, and with added distance, the band sounds more apiece with their influences than derivative of them. Three of these tracks ("Some Kinda Itch," "Sure Thing" and "Mr. Soul") were previously released in 1983 as the B-side of a Rough Trade 12", and the full show in 1995. But with both discs out of print, Omnivore's reissue will be welcomed by long-time fans (including, it turns out, Steven Wynn himself), and a revelation to the uninitiated. Pat Thomas' liners from the 1995 release are augmented by Steve Wynn's memories of the songs, performances and people, fleshing out the story of how the Dream Syndicate's passion was showcased live. 4-1/2 stars, if allowed fractional ratings. [©2014 Hyperbolium]