erasing clouds

Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste: Galaxie 500 1987-1991 DVD

reviewed by dave heaton

Up to this point, those of us who weren't in the know about Galaxie 500 during the three or four years of their existence experienced their live show mostly through the live album Copenhagen, an excellent recording of a show from December of 1990, a handful of months before the band broke up and the musicians went their separate ways (guitarist Dean Wareham forming Luna, bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski becoming the duo Damon and Naomi). So the joy of the 2-DVD set Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste for fans lies at least partly with the fact that it collects two complete concerts on one of the discs, and has songs from six other performances...more live Galaxie 500 collected in one place than ever before. But then there's also the band's four videos (all directed by Sergio Huidor, they're low-budget and appropriately hazy), and an interview with all three band members for UK television, so it all adds up to both a nice gift for fans and a good introduction to Galaxie 500, an explanation of why their fanbase has grown after the band broke up.

The earliest two performances here are both in their native Boston (one in 1988, one in 1989), while the rest are from 1990, when the band achieved enough popularity to tour around more. The picture and audio quality varies from decent to really fuzzy, as the live recordings range from someone in the audience with a camera to somewhat (but not much) more professionally done recordings. But to me that's alright - this collection is sort of like finding a box of random recordings in the closet of one of the band's most devoted fans. That grab-bag approach is appropriate for a band with a do-it-yourself aesthetic, who attracted fans through their music alone, without the aid of expensive marketing campaigns or hype.

Galaxie 500 weren't exactly show-biz types; their stage presence would never be described as particularly dynamic or attention-getting. There's a certain detachment that matches the mystery inherent in their songs and sound. But musically their live performances were entrancing, at least based on the handful of shows captured here. And the best of them are the more recent shows, when their sound grew in presence, becoming big and especially involving.

Galaxie 500's music is always appropriately discussed in terms of the dream-like state the band captures, and the way their songs slowly and beautifully unfold, but the earliest performances here also reveal a serious Jonathan Richman influence on Dean Wareham's guitar playing, something I should have noticed before but hadn't (it's not just the fact that they cover "Back in Your Life" and "Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste", or that the one un-recorded original here, "Buzz in My Head" has what Wareham calls in the booklet interview "a sort of JoJo flavor to it"; listen to the guitar at the beginning of the 1989 version of "Tugboat" here, it could be "That Summer Feeling."). The influence of Jonathan's favorite band, the Velvet Underground, has always seemed present in Galaxie 500's sound, and their music held enough dark shadows to make their cover of Joy Division's "Ceremony" always seem fitting. But Galaxie 500 took their influences and tastes and melded them into something truly unique. Their style is something that rings through many bands in their wake, as well, giving their music (and this collection) an extra level of significance for music historians. But while Don't Let Our Youth Go to Waste is a historical collection - a look back at some moments in time - it's also a compelling document of the still-fascinating music created by three friends who picked up some instruments and wandered their way into brillance. It might not be the most "professional" collection, but good music has never been about cleanliness.


Issue 24, June 2004

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