BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Originally released 20 years ago on a German label, The Day Before Wine and Roses represents baby pictures of the much-beloved Dream Syndicate. Captured during a radio broadcast a few weeks before the band would go into the studio to record its debut, the recording presents a group that knew where it wanted to go but was unsure how to get there. Leader Steve Wynn whacks at his unvarnished Fender while doing his best Lou Reed impersonation and rambling playfully between songs, Karl Precoda tortures his amplifier (to especially skronklicious effect on a very nascent version of “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” called “Open Hour”) and Kendra Smith and Dennis Duck keep the rhythm on track, but just barely.
Admittedly, the cheerful looseness may have been due to both the lateness of the hour – the band didn’t start playing until 2 a.m. – and the liquid courage downed before the show (as described in Wynn’s liner notes). Regardless, the woozy, boozy renditions of Syndicate classics (“That’s What You Always Say,” “When You Smile,” a blisteringly savage “The Days of Wine and Roses”), early tunes (“Some Kinda Itch,” “Sure Thing”) and cool covers (Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues,” Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul,” a massive, wacked-out take on Donovan’s “Season of the Witch”) get by as much on charm and the exuberance of a band blasting out to a (hopefully) wide audience for the first time as on the sloppy but spirited performances.
The Day Before Wine and Roses may not get the same spins as more accomplished Dream Syndicate records, but it’s still an essential document of a great band at the beginning of its journey.
DOWNLOAD: “The Days of Wine and Roses,” “Open Hour,” “Outlaw Blues”