Luna Shine Big And Bright Over San Francisco

Band speaks sparingly and goes all out in playing its lulling pop melodies.

SAN FRANCISCO — Luna walked on stage at San Francisco’s Fillmore Monday night like a band who’d been there many times before. They had a job to do.

And they were determined to get it done.

They certainly weren’t acting like the next big cheese of “alternative rock,” riding off an MTV “buzz” clip, or trying to fulfill teeny boppers’ pop-star fantasies. No, Dean Wareham and crew carried an air of seasoned veterans. It seemed they knew exactly what they were doing. They were there to play good music and that was all.

To begin the set, former Galaxie 500 frontman Wareham casually walked onto the blue-lit stage, unphased by the cheering. He didn’t even put his guitar on, much less say anything to the crowd before the bass player Justin Harwood (ex-Chills), and new drummer Lee Wall broke into “Beautiful You” off of Luna’s newest album, Pup Tent.

Wareham sang into an old-fashioned microphone, his voice floating through in a melancholy tone that blended perfectly with the folksy melody. The crowd was mostly quiet, mesmerized by the sound filling the hall. Song after song, Luna drew the audience closer, preferring to speak through their music rather than to revert to stage banter.

Five songs later, Wareham finally stopped to acknowledge the crowd. “We all got massages yesterday,” is all he said. The band played its music so effortlessly — Wareham barely breaking his concentration to move from his microphone — that it could only come from a perfectly relaxed combo. Whether that was due to the massage, or something more personal and profound is something only the band members know for sure.

One thing was clear: these guys had something beautiful to say.

Luna played a well-rounded combination of songs off of their four albums, mixing in older favorites with the newer songs for a crowd comprised largely of older fans, some who likely went as far back as Wareham’s Galaxie 500 days. At times the songs were so lulling and warm that they brought back memories of sunny road trips with old friends. A crowd pleasing rendition of “Slash Your Tires,” from Luna’s first album, Lunapark, was mixed together with the newer “I-Hop” and “Tracy I Love You,” from Pup Tent.

And while the band threw in a little of everything, Luna’s third album, Penthouse, got the most attention. Guitarist Sean Eden’s unforgettable twangy guitar riff on “Sideshow,” and Wareham’s Lou Reed-style vocals in “Chinatown” were only topped by a groove-evoking “23 minutes in Brussels,” all from that album.

But what really got the audience going was the dreamy “Tiger Lily Girl,” and the set closer “California,” off of Betwitched. Two encores later and the band had finished for the night, but only after having made some new friends, as well as having re-established its relationship with longtime fans. [Fri., Oct. 3, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]