LIVE: Luna @ MASS MoCA, 5/28/16
Review by Steven Stock
Luna slots neatly into the lineage of New York-area twin-guitar bands with singers who aren’t exactly Rock Gods. It’s a tradition that began with the Velvet Underground in the sixties, was refined by Television in the seventies, carried forward by the Feelies in the eighties and finally given new life by Luna from 1991 to February 2005.
Critics who like their history neat portray Luna’s opening slot on the Velvets’ 1993 European tour as a symbolic passing of the torch – rather ignoring the fact that Lou Reed would’ve been more likely to choose self-immolation over designating any successor! Besides there are plenty of stronger connections linking Luna to this heritage. Their first drummer was Feelie Stanley Demeski, Velvets’ guitarist Sterling Morrison guested on 1994’s Bewitched and the following year Television axeman Tom Verlaine made a cameo appearance on Penthouse.
After seven studio albums and one (strongly recommended!) live CD, Luna played a series of farewell gigs documented on the Tell Me Do You Miss Me DVD, culminating with a “final” show at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom. Singer/guitarist Dean Wareham and bassist Britta Phillips continued as a duo, bringing 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Test to MASS MoCA in 2009.
Luna’s final incarnation (Wareham, Phillips, guitarist Sean Eden and drummer Lee Wall) reunited last year. While Phillips has a new solo record Luck or Magic, the band itself doesn’t have anything new to plug, aside from a pricey white vinyl box set compiling their extant catalog. So at their recent season-opening concert at MASS MoCA, Luna played essentially a greatest hits set (five tracks from Bewitched, four from Penthouse) enlivened by three obscure cover versions.
The band’s sound has been described as “dream-pop” and Wareham’s vocals as “sleepy.” And they didn’t exactly begin with a bang, opening with a leisurely rendition of “Slide,” “Sideshow by the Seashore” and the rather soporific “Going Home.” From that point on though the set gained momentum, with drummer Wall becoming increasingly more assertive, as if he was sick of hearing Luna referred to as a guitar band.
“Malibu Love Nest” chugged along irresistibly in a Velvets/Feelies mode, and the subsequent “Chinatown” (about former Elektra artists & repertoire VP Terry Tolkin) boasts one of Wareham’s most memorable couplets:
“You’re out all night
You’re late to work
And you go home earlies…”
Eden took over lead vocal duties on “Still at Home” without threatening to upstage Wareham’s adenoidal murmur. Infinitely preferable was Phillips’ vocal turn on a cover of Evie Sands’ “One Fine Summer Morning,” one of the many highlights from Love or Magic. Phillips has a lovely voice and her backing vocals lend many of Luna’s songs an appealing pop sheen.
The other covers were a faithful version of the Cure’s “Fire in Cairo” and Beat Happening’s “Indian Summer.” And after opening with a bit of a whimper, Luna was wise to close with a bang: the swirling guitars of “23 Minutes in Brussels” and a robust rendition of “Friendly Advice.” It was an enjoyable show and a fine way to start the summer, but both band and audience seemed very comfortable with the familiar set list. Here’s hoping that Luna will soon reinvigorate their performances by injecting more new material.
LUNA SET LIST
Sideshow by the Seashore
Malibu Love Nest
Still At Home
This Time Around
One Fine Summer Morning
Tracy I Love You
Fire in Cairo
23 Minutes in Brussels