Steve Wynn is bringing the Dream Syndicate back at a time when the band's primary inspiration is being eulogized. "When Lou Reed died (on Oct. 27), I was depressed and stunned," Wynn says. "I spent the first year of my musical life being compared to him, and fighting that, but I realized later it was an honor. It meant a lot that people were getting that spirit out of a new band."
Wynn discovered Reed's groundbreaking '60s band, the Velvet Underground, when he was 19, about a decade after the Velvets broke up. "I had been listening to music and playing guitar all along, but when I heard the 'banana' album (the Velvets 1967 self-titled debut with Andy Warhol's iconic cover image), I became obsessed with that sound. It unlocked everything. Two years later (in 1981), I formed the Dream Syndicate."
He was joined by a college friend, bassist Kendra Smith, plus guitarist Karl Precoda and drummer Dennis Duck. The Dream Syndicate's 1982 debut album, "The Days of Wine and Roses," roared out of Southern California at a time when hip-hop and a new legion of electronic bands were establishing the new currency of pop music.
"The band was so much about guitars, at a time when guitars weren't really loved," Wynn says. "People thought guitars were dead, but we were flying that flag for distortion and feedback."
From the get-go, the quartet's combustible arrangements – typified by tracks such as "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" that could go on for 30 minutes or more — had a divisive effect on audiences.
"When we started the band, Kendra and I had this thing where we either wanted to be loved or hated, with nothing in between," he says. "We wanted to make polarizing music, be aggressive and even confrontational. Sometimes we'd try to see how long we could do a song — 40 minutes, 50 minutes — just to amuse ourselves. Or we'd do ridiculous covers of then-current radio songs. It was just bratty behavior by people who were 22 at the time. We were kids."
The band broke up in the late '80s after several lineup changes, including the departures of Smith and Precoda. Wynn, who performs regularly with two other bands (the Miracle 3 and the Baseball Project) and is working on a solo album, cobbled together a new version of the Dream Syndicate for a festival last year that included Duck; bassist Mark Walton (who joined the band in the '80s after Smith left) and guitarist Jason Victor, who has played with Wynn for more than a decade. The initial response was so encouraging that Wynn decided to take the band on tour this year, including a show Saturday at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
"A lot of people break up and want to get away as far as possible," he says. "But I always liked what we did, and I'm proud of it. I want people who never experienced the band to have a chance to see what we do. Putting the band back together, it was pretty apparent who it would be. Dennis and Mark, we've been friends for years. We stayed in contact all this time, and we were never mortal enemies. The guitar thing is more challenging. Neither guitarist who was in the '80s band could be doing it now, for all kinds of reasons. Playing with Jason the last 12 years, he embodies the spirit of the Dream Syndicate. He was the obvious choice."
Wynn says he reached out to Precoda, but was rebuffed. "At various times I did reach out to Karl, but silly things happened in our youth and people just stop talking. He's not receptive on any level. Kendra and I have stayed friends, but she has a little bit of a hermit lifestyle and is not going to jump into a van or into a studio that easily. (Guitarist Paul B. Cutler, who replaced Precoda in the '80s band) and I stayed very good friends, but he also didn't want to be in any band at this time. So was I going to let that get in the way of trying to do this again, or move on?"
Wynn is a student of rock history and he's well aware of the limitations of most reunions. He doesn't pretend to claim that the Dream Syndicate will be the rare exception.
"Everybody wants to see all these bands that are reuniting one more time — but seven or eight more times, maybe not," he says. "It's hard to think of many bands that came back the second time around and were just as vital — Wire is a good example. We'd like to do one show in every city we like to play. But I don't see the Dream Syndicate doing this over and over, and you can hold me to this five years from now (laughs). But right now we're really enjoying this. We're not trying to prove anything or aspire to anything beyond representing what we were. You are a museum piece and it's a good thing to do once. Our attitude is, the freakier the better. It's a chance to explore the songs and see where they can go. That was always the most exhilarating side of the band, and it still is."
Greg Kot co-hosts "Sound Opinions" at 8 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. Saturdays on WBEZ (FM-91.5).
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Old School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave.
Tickets: $28 and $30; oldtownschool.org