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Still doin’ it: Steve Wynn at Valentine’s.

photo :Joe Putrock

These Days
By Kirsten Ferguson

Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, the Silos, the Good Earth Band
Valentine’s, Jan. 21

If there is a fountain of youth out there, secreted in a place that most age-ravaged rockers can’t find, than Steve Wynn has it tapped. The seemingly ageless songwriter, who released The Days of Wine and Roses with Dream Syndicate 23 years ago, somehow looked even younger on Friday than he did during his last Albany appearance in 2001. The guy was practically glowing onstage, even though the former Californian now lives in New York, where he surely suffers from the same sun-deprived winter climate that gave us frigid weather for Friday night’s show at Valentine’s.

Given the freeze, not many people ventured out, a situation that plagued Wynn’s December show at Valentine’s three years ago (perhaps he should try another season next time, if we are lucky enough to have a next time). The 30 to 40 people in attendance, a small crowd with more than its share of local-music critics, found the club to be pleasantly toasty, though. “It’s Friday night and this is the warmest place in town,” Wynn joked. For those not lucky enough to be standing under one of the heaters shooting hot air down from the ceiling, there was plenty of onstage heat coming off Wynn and his band the Miracle 3.

In his last Albany appearance, Wynn and his band played every song on the touchstone The Days of Wine and Roses album to celebrate its 20th anniversary and reissue by Rhino. There was chemistry in the air then, and Friday night’s show was no different, with Wynn and guitarist Jason Victor inciting each other into the sort of frenzied guitar wig-outs that made the 1991 show so electric. (Though it was no cock-off, in the way that some rock guitarists showboat; both Victor and Wynn are unassuming types.)

Despite his current status as an East Coast resident, Wynn spends a lot of time revisiting the West in song. He started his set with “Death Valley Rain,” a searing desert noir epic from 2001’s critically acclaimed double album Here Come the Miracles and then followed with the lighter “California Style,” from 2003’s Static Transmission. Wynn’s band support these days is exceptional, with Dave DeCastro on bass and Linda Pitmon, who played in ’90s band Zuzu’s Petals, rocking out on the drums. Those who dismiss Wynn as a faded ’80s rocker are missing out on one of the best performers to visit Albany on occasion; he and his band have the ability to wrap the listener in a charged, hair-raising sort of electricity.

After the fatalistic “What Comes After,” Wynn tried out a mini-set of new songs—including “Wired,” “Freak Star” and “Wild Mercury”—for a road test. “I hope you enjoyed it. That was half of my new album,” Wynn said before returning to older fare with The Days of Wine and Roses classic “When You Smile.” The night’s most intense whammy-bar workout came during “That’s What You Always Say,” and then Wynn fielded requests with “Merrittville” and “Halloween” closing the set.

It isn’t every day that one pioneering songwriter visits Valentine’s, let alone two. The Silos preceded Wynn, and frontman Walter Salas-Humara’s working-class anthems seemed especially poignant on this night. Dressed all in black, with a scarf wrapped around his neck, Salas-Humara dedicated a somber “When You Come Back” to people with family members in Iraq. With Creedence shuffle and lyrical conviction, “Satisfied” was more upbeat, as was the band’s cover of “Changed the Locks,” a Lucinda Williams-penned kiss-off. “Who would come to Albany in minus-zero weather and not play a suicide ballad?” Salas-Humara asked before the touchingly beautiful “Get Out.” The band finished with their road-weary classic “Tennessee Fire.”

The Good Earth Band, a local four-piece, opened the show with an agreeable set of songs that managed to be earthy but not hippy, laid-back but still polished.

Warming Up the Future

Asobi Seksu, Grand Habit, the List Exists
King’s Tavern, Jan. 21

Fending off the frigid onslaught from the casual stage at King’s Tavern in Saratoga Springs on Friday were three bands, between them counting 13 musicians representing two countries and three states, with somewhat similar reference points and intentions.

Asobi Seksu are a New York City quartet fronted by Japanese singer and keyboard player Yuki Chikudate. She sings in both English and her native tongue, sometimes also in a unique hybrid combination. The subtleties of the vocal aspect is in sharper focus on their debut CD; in performance, their presentation was more squarely located in the visceral world of throbbing tempos and the shimmering wall of guitar erected by James Hanna. The club’s small stage forces a directness that is refreshing, grandstanding not really being possible without crashing into a bandmate or stepping off the edge. Asobi Seksu clearly understand how their moves transmit across a big room. Seeing them up this close and in such a spare setting forces the attention onto the pure force of the music.

Locally based Grand Habit are a duo of brothers John and Joshua Carter. Live, they doubled their lineup with a drummer and additional keyboard/guitarist. The songs of their self-titled debut exude a mysterious intimacy, with layers of keyboards and guitars built over programmed rhythm tracks. What was remarkable to learn Friday was that the songs connected just as well with high-octane sonics and beats grown large. They were undeniably propulsive, with space and quiet used to dramatic effect.

Based primarily at Bowdoin College in Maine (with a couple of members in Boston), the List Exists also boast a team of brothers, along with a pair of guys named Max, neither of whom are one of the brothers. While their set was the most derivative, it was bracing to see a young band who know how to combine all the elements for a compelling whole. A sign that they’re headed in the right direction was their closing song, “Barcelona.” The strongest song of their set, it was too new to have been included on the three-song CD they were offering for sale.

The lack of any meaningful stage lighting at King’s Tavern was bothersome at first, with band members being in nearly the same dim light as the attendees. While it would be nice if this omission is addressed in time, it actually served to unify the evening, placing all three bands in similar stead (with the occasional exception of Asobi Seksu’s use of a pair of strobes they brought along and activated at a couple key junctures during their performance). It’s nice that Saratoga Springs has a venue that looks to what’s around the corner and what lies ahead, rather than the cavalcade of nostalgia that tends to be the norm for most stages in the city.

—David Greenberger

 

 

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