The Dream Syndicate / Emma Tricca – Scala, London – Monday 21st October 2019
It’s funny, once upon a time I went to relatively few gigs so that they all felt special. These days, in a year when I might see sixty shows, it’s only possible for a few to generate that same sense of anticipation but I’d been looking forward to this show for weeks. And it was every bit as special as the Dream Syndicate show in Leeds that we were lucky enough to catch a couple of years back.
Unfortunately chances to catch the Syndicate live in the UK are pretty rare, so rather than Leeds this time, we had to head to the capital for what was the only UK date of the European tour in support of new album “These Times”.
Curiously I’m fairly sure that I’ve ever been to any London venue twice but the Scala was definitely a new one. I did expect it to be slightly bigger than it actually is but in terms of size and layout it’s actually very reminiscent of the Academy in Dublin, which we visited earlier in the year. Getting in early (through the surely overzealous security for a show populated by a lot of men of a certain age) we were able to get an almost identical spot to the one we had in Dublin – behind the main floor but on a barrier on the first raised level. A great place to see and hear the show – assuming someone didn’t levitate onto the barrier from the floor as happened in Dublin!
Unlike in Leeds, this time there was a support. Emma Tricca performed a nice melodic set of 70s tinged songs. Principally solo, she was joined for the last couple of tunes by Syndicate guitarist Jason Victor, who had played on Emma’s most recent album. In person he added some subtle colourings to the songs – far removed from what he would later play with the band!
I was pleasantly surprised that the audience was respectfully quiet throughout and Emma received a very warm welcome at the conclusion of her set. Which set the scene nicely for the headline act.
Starting with the extended jam of ‘HDIFMH’ itself was a brave move but in a lot of ways it makes sense. It wasn’t necessarily an attention-grabbing start and only induced some minor swaying in the crowd. But it’s almost the perfect song for an in-show “soundcheck” since it features the different band members at different times with the odd crescendo thrown in for good measure. Indeed, at one point, the sound engineer checked out the sound through a sweep of the back of the floor yet although it sounded fine, if a little quiet, it turned out that it hadn’t yet quite hit the mark .
‘Put Some Miles On’ *should* have been the one to light the blue touch paper but, unfortunately, it was both a wee bit of mess sound-wise and was a little undercooked although the volume was increased rather abruptly (but pleasingly) towards the end of the song.
Fortunately, the following ’80 West’ was absolutely monstrous and kicked off as good a run of three songs as you’ll hear anywhere this year. It was followed by a brilliant ‘Black Light’ and a colossal ‘Out of My Head’ with the latter in particular demonstrating just how what a superb unit this band is despite having evolved from several different points in Dream Syndicate history.
Any great band needs a great rhythm section and in Dennis Duck and Mark Walton the Syndicate have that with both able to underpin the song but also add additional propulsion when required. From that base, Steve Wynn and Jason Victor are able to do exactly what is necessary with the guitars for each song whether it be freak out, melodic leads or anything in-between. Not to forget Chris Cacavas whose keys add colour to most of the set.
Only after that triple salvo did the band finally dip into the 80s back catalogue with an extended ‘Medicine Show’ and ‘Armed With An Empty Gun’ with the former allowing Steve to encourage an audience singalong and venture to the front edge of the crowd.
Next new songs ‘Bullet Holes and ‘Recovery Mode’ showcased the psychedelic pop side of the new album, the songs’ apparent simplicity belying their true depths.
The latter led straight into a howl of feedback as Chris temporarily departed the stage for Jason to set-up ‘When You Smile’, the first of a sublime quartet of songs from the debut. ‘Halloween’ was the choice for a breathtaking psychedelic jam before the classic riff introduced ‘That’s What You Always Says’. ‘The Days of Wine & Roses’ was a spectacular, unstoppable juggernaut, although I have to deduct points from the London audience for the smattering of applause during the song’s breakdown.
That left only the sublime meshing of guitars and bass on a glorious, soaring ‘Glide’ to conclude the main set.
Curiously a number of folk started to drift away at this point for what I can only assume were travel reasons. But they missed out on an unpredictable and fun encore.
The band’s cover of the Bangles’ ‘Hero Takes a Fall’ (from the “3×4” Paisley Underground compilation earlier in the year) was a light-hearted way to kick things off before ‘Still Here Now’ returned us to the realms of psychedelic pop.
The show was peppered with shouted requests from the audience and Steve finally adopted one of these ‘The Side I’ll Never Show’ to the apparent confusion of Chris. The much requested ‘Merritville’ (also shouted for but not played in Leeds) was finally given a UK airing to close out the show.
Having said that, I confess that I did think at the time that the band would be back – they appeared to have left standards ‘Tell Me When It’s Over’ and ‘John Coltrane Stereo Blues’ (and maybe even the persistently requested ‘Ghostbusters’ – “I know you know it!”) for a second encore. But, no, that was indeed it.
Looking back at recent setlists what’s apparent is that the band have been rotating songs in and out of the set at different shows. Certainly, there were songs at each of the recent gigs I’d have loved to have heard that they didn’t play in London. But equally if I’d been asked to pick one setlist from the recent run of shows then I’m pretty sure it would have been Monday night’s. (No, fuck it, the show in Madrid last night!) Unless, of course, the 6-hour gig Steve joked about had been on offer.
So once again a phenomenal show from an extraordinary live band. Quite when (and where) we’ll get the chance to catch the Syndicate again remains to be seen. But one thing is sure, if it’s humanly possible, we’ll make the effort to see them – and possibly more than once.
Realistically, it may never happen, but even if I don’t see them again, I’ll still consider myself fortunate to have seen them twice in the last couple of years.
1 How Did I Find Myself Here 2 Put Some Miles On 3 80 West 4 Black Light 5 Out of My Head 6 Medicine Show 7 Armed With An Empty Gun 8 Bullet Holes 9 Recovery Mode 10 When You Smile 11 Halloween 12 That’s What You Always Says 13 The Days of Wine & Roses 14 Glide
15 Hero Takes A Fall 16 Still Here Now 17 The Side I Never Show 18 Merritville