Notes: Dean Wareham @ Roxy Theatre, June 19, 2014

dw_02Recently relocated from New York, the city with which he’s been long identified, to take up residence here in the Hills, Dean Wareham seemed at ease on stage with an mild though attentive L.A. audience at the Roxy last Thursday. Looking like someone’s cool dad (which he is) just slightly rumpled in a casual stripped polo shirt and dark framed glasses and hair sprouting perhaps a slightly lesser amount of his usual poof, he gives off an air between bookishness (he is after all an author) and rocker cool (he does after all have a shiny Les Paul). He’s self effacing but you sense the confidence underneath it.

Despite the occasion of the new self titled solo record and last year’s e.p. — first ever sets released under his own full name in a musical career that spans four decades (similar to Ben Watt who also just released a self titled set at age 50 after a 30 year span) — the set featured a healthy chunk of Galaxie 500 classics along with a pair of Luna gems to much audible appreciation from the crowd. Ending the night with the prior’s cover of “Ceremony”, it is hard to think of a song that is as much identified by its cover version as its original recording.

On the current quick West Coast live jaunt, Wareham is backed by an able band of three: a familiar face, his partner in music and life, Britta on bass and occasional synth, alongside the slightly less familiar sights of Roger Brogan (playing with Spectrum) and Raymond Richards (Red Rockets Glare studio man) on drums and second guitar/synth, respectively.

Though the room sound was largely a murky mess (one loosened up fan yelling as much aloud to the room between songs, to which the sound man responded by cranking up the volume, completely missing the point) the band was in good form across a varied set that zigzagged from warm drone to mellow ballad to lock groove jams to noisy shoegaze. Now at 50, Wareham’s voice is still as expressive as ever with that constant tinge of plaintive knowing.
The new songs are a distillation of a long established sound – sparkly jangle, kaleidoscopic drone, mix of smooth and fiery lead solos, uptempo driving riffs, along with some newer jazzy textures and warm synths – on record, buffed to a high sheen by producer Jim James. Live, they sit perfectly in the set alongside Luna and Galaxie 500.

The fair sized was crowd a nice mix of the old guard and young upstarts recognizing the place Wareham occupies in the pantheon. One guy in the former group I had to double take on his ensemble, so perfectly Normcore – t-shirt tucked into denim shorts, Teva sandals, middle management haircut – that I suspected a put on. I decided he was the real deal and at some point even envied either the lack of self awareness or don’t-give-a-shitness.

Noting that it was 1997 the last time he played the Roxy (with Luna circa Pup Tent), besides making us all feel that much older, it reinforced sense that the recent revitalization of the Roxy’s booking is a welcome step toward recovering its past relevance. There’s still a bit of the worse aspects of the Sunset Blvd. mentality still hanging on – “VIP” sectioning of the room (of which admittedly I partook of to take a seat), overpriced beers, bouncers enforcing a clear walkway maybe a bit too zealously – but there’s a lot good in having Wareham in this part of town. Just up the block, the unruly 1OAK queue is spilling over onto the sidewalk and street, scantily- and douchily-clad human detritus snaking their way to bottle service. Two doors down, the block Wareham is still here, providing a reliable alternative to the madding crowd, after all these years.

Dean Wareham |