[27 June 2004]
Although it had a short existence, Galaxie 500 remains an important group from the late ‘80s underground scene. The group—singer/guitarist Dean Wareham, bassist Naomi Yang, and drummer Damon Krukowski—developed a style of music influential to a variety of genres but not easily place in its own. The band used reverb guitar to create a blend of shoegaze, dreampop, and slowcore before splitting up in the early ‘90s (with members playing primarily in Luna and Damon and Naomi). Galaxie 500: Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste (1987-1991) documents this period by presenting live footage, interviews, and the group’s four videos. The double-disc DVD has its moments, but it’s primarily a collection for serious fans and completists.
The music videos—for “Tugboat”, “When Will You Come Home”, “Blue Thunder”, and “Fourth of July”—start the documentary, but probably prove to be the least insightful. In the DVD’s booklet, Yo La Tengo’s James McNew interviews the band, and they discuss the novelty not only of making videos, but also of doing so at a time when the medium hadn’t been fully explored. Several of the videos contain violent or destructive images, and Wareham explains the director’s urge to “undermine the band’s pastoral image”. The interview here, and throughout the booklet, is often more intriguing than the film, and it’s been constructed brilliantly. You can read the interview along with each section of the film, like a visual version of traditional audio commentary, but it’s much better than the explanations on most DVD’s, and works well withou the movie.
The other interview associated with the film is on the first disc and was taken from a February 1990 conversation for a UK television station. The band comes off well, and goofy, but as if they’re trying to hard. The interviewer seems less knowledgeable than would be desire, and refuses to drop this idea of the band’s music as “wimpy”. It’s a term the band says they’ve had to shake, but it’s an inaccurate term, and certainly not a sustainable interview topic. The whole interview stays pretty banal, and you have to wonder why it’s been included in Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste.
The live footage varies widely in both performances and video quality. The highlight easily belongs to the November 1990 set at the University of London, where Galaxie 500 plays to crowd of fans and is filmed as well as in some of the professional footage. The group opens and closes with two of its strongest numbers, “Fourth of July” and “Here She Comes Now” (also a great song to end the collection with), and sustains its show throughout. Wareham claims the group was nervous at the show, but you can’t tell it. The other bootlegged show on disc two, at the Point in Atlanta in January of the same year, shows a looser band but a disinterested audience. The show’s okay, but not spectacular.
That problem runs throughout the discs. The fascinating part of watching various live performances lies in watching the band re-work their songs, and while Galaxie 500 doesn’t re-play their tunes, they don’t experiment as dramatically as many acts would. Considering that they’re only pulling from three studio albums’ worth of material, the band does do a good job presenting a variety of songs (including two previously unreleased numbers), but several songs show up repeatedly. “Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste” appears three times and gives this DVD set its name; oddly, it’s a Jonathan Richman tune and not an original.
The strength of the concert selection comes from the presentation of the band’s growth as peformers. In 1989 and 1988, the band looks timid and unsure of itself, and has yet to find its sound. By 1990, Galaxie 500 has arrived. Even when the audience is clueless, the band is strong, and the individual performances are entertaining. You probably won’t want to watch the four hours on the discs from beginning to end, but there are quite a few moments worth returning to, and it’s a nice compilation for a band that warrants one.