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Live Report: Luna

Bowery Ballroom, New York, September 11, 1998

Every die-hard fan savors the anticipation that accompanies a
favored band’s live performance. You count down the days, plan your
weekend around it, hope they play your this or that song, and
strategize your navigation through the crowd to the front. You
cheer for their performance to be tight and electrifying, just as
you would root for your kid from the sidelines of his first soccer
game. You want the show to be a success in every respect because
you feel a kinship with the band. You want them to launch into
orbit, and you don’t necessarily want everyone else to hitchhike
along for the ride.

Such was the setting into which Luna descended Friday night.
Playing to a packed house for the second of a three-night stint in
their hometown, singer Dean Wareham entered stage left to the
excitement of fans who were still baffled by the neo-country
opening act, Jennyanykind. After a short instrumental intro, he and
bandmates Sean Eden (guitar), Justin Harwood (bass) and Lee Wall
(drums) launched into the title track of their latest
critically-acclaimed release, Pup Tent. The song’s clever
word-play and woozy melody quickly ushered the antsy crowd into a
familiar Luna groove. Neophytes are more familiar with Pup
Tent
and 1995’s Penthouse, but old-school fans,
always anxious for a nugget off of Bewitched, were treated
to five on this night. “Friendly Advice” was one of them, and it
had the frat boys in the front row high-fivin’ and getting’ jiggy
wit it all over everyone. It’s shocking how a band with
well-documented intellectual tendencies and little mainstream
appeal can reel in so many drunken, baseball capped idiots down
front.

But whether they were zealous fanatics, laid-back listeners with
good taste or stammering fools, everyone at the show was curious
about the new material. And though it’s difficult for us (with good
taste) to admit, the few new tunes were half-baked at best. “4000
Days,” with Sean’s wah-wah-fuzz guitars, was appealing, but had
holes; “Seven Footsteps,” with its rawk solo and repetitive
propensity, was a sufficient showcase for Dean’s ironic lyrics, but
not for his fragile vocals. “Weeden” had Dean baa-baa-ing like he
does so well, but it was hardly a standout. Even the frat boys
stood still (but managed, nonetheless, to spill beer on everyone
around them).

The two encores saved the show from being lost in the corridors of
memory. Stripping it down to Wareham and his aquatic guitar
noodlings, and bolstered by Eden’s deft musicianship, the duo
initiated the gorgeous “Beggar’s Bliss” with a humorous anecdote
about Sean’s sexual forays, and then segued into “This Time
Around.” Leaving the stage for good was not a possibility, with all
that energy swarming around like the Ebola virus, and so the
foursome returned with a perfect rendition of “California” and a
mellow “Chinatown,” which unwittingly referenced the tiny hours
into which the elongated set had stretched.

The charm and appeal of Luna has always been their
little-known-secret status. Having to share it with a bunch of
distracting dudes from the ‘burbs is a total violation. But then,
getting a glimpse of the new material, even if it wasn’t up to
Luna’s stellar standards, before the masses chew it up and spit it
out was a minor vindication. Hell, just being in the same room with
one of today’s great unknowns was satisfaction enough.

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