Although he came through here last year opening for Concrete Blonde's farewell tour with just himself and an acoustic guitar, it's been five years since former Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn has mounted a major (read: with a band) American tour.
His last gig here (in Fort Worth, actually) was notable in several respects. First, a wonderfully tipsy Johnette Napolitano--with a giggling, swaying, start-and-stop performance that was a lot more entertaining than it reads--livened up what otherwise easily could've been a wake. Before that, Wynn's strum-along entree betrayed his inner folk storyteller--the one you always knew lurked behind all that feedback--and he was in no way afraid of his Syndicate favorites, giving songs like the howling "The Days of Wine and Roses" and the anthemic "Tell Me When It's Over" a completely new cast.
Despite his various styles--Wynn can veer from big, tent-revival Dylanisms ("Kerosene Man") to stark underground Velveteen ("When You Smile")--his wordplay shines. Granted, sometimes he can come off a bit awkward, but more often than not his lyrics are telling and incisive. When he sings "I've got a Page One story buried in my yard," you believe him, unable to keep from imagining all the implicit horror in that statement, regardless of whether you think he's talking about a piece of a flying saucer or the neighbors diced up and stored in little plastic bags. Another strength of the Syndicate in olden days--a surreal touch with cover songs--is also still present; no one takes a song and makes it his own quite like Wynn, whether it's Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble" from the promo EP Kerosene Man or Wynn's heartfelt take on the Band's "Stage Fright" during his most recent past appearance here.
He now has a band and a brand-new album, Melting in the Dark. Announcing a desire to recover the old Syndicate spark, Wynn popped into Boston's fabled Fort Apache studios with indie darlings Come and cut the album in less than a week. Come will not accompany him on this tour, but a trio of alterna-ringers--ZuZu's Petals drummer Linda Pittmon, Zulus guitarist Rich Gilbert, and bassist Armistead Wellford from both Gutterball (Wynn's "hobby" band that has nonetheless put out two good albums) and Love Tractor--will ensure that the old Dream Syndicate firestorm is well within reach.
Steve Wynn performs at the Galaxy Club Friday, October 11.