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.