The Lowdown On Luna

Much ado about Luna.

ATN Boston correspondent Seth "Rock & Roll"

Mnookin

dropped by the Middle East in Canbridge the other night (Sat., Jan. 13) to

catch a set by Luna. Here's his report: "I'm Gonna Move Right In," the

second

track on the Velvet Underground's posthumous (save for their '93 European tour)

album Another View, is certainly not one of the Velvet's better known

tracks. First off, there are no vocals, and, most would say, what embodies the

Velvets more than Lou Reed's suggestive, sardonic drawl? Second of all, it's

not much of a pop song: almost seven-minutes long, "I'm Gonna Move Right In" is

built around a fairly simple riff that keeps chugging along, rarely moving from

it's foundation, as the rhythm section keeps pace behind it and the guitar

slowly builds in tempo and intensity.

It's a classic Sterling Morrison

solo, the kind that is too often under appreciated when evaluating the Velvet's

music (due at least partially to the fact that Morrison didn't always get to

show his chops on the Velvet's albums. Lou Reed has many great attributes, but

sharing the spotlight isn't one of them). The song begins and ends with a

Morrison riff that has a crystalline, bell-like tone. As the song progresses,

Morrison maintains this perfect tone throughout, while subtlety changing pace,

altering the chords a little, speeding things up and slowing them down. It's

not a flashy, in-your-face type of solo; it's graceful, and

brilliant.

Luna, fronted by perpetually dazed-looking Dean Wareham, has oft

been compared to the Velvet Underground (see Addicted To Noise issue 1.12), and

the band has also openly proclaimed their respect and love for the recently

deceased Morrison, who played on Luna's second album, Bewitched. But

comparisons have more been along the line of Luna's paradoxically

laid-back/urgent vibe, Wareham's deadpan vocal delivery and often sarcastic

lyrics, and Luna's subversively poppy melodies. But I'd like to suggest that it

is Morrison's crystalline, thoughtful solos that map out the musical lineage

between the Velvets and Luna as much as anything else. Like "I'm Gonna Move

Right In," Wareham, and occasionally rhythm guitarist Sean Eden, have mastered

the art of the thoughtful, simple (but not simplistic), gorgeous lead lines

that open and close most of Luna's songs when they perform live. Wareham in

particular has a clarion quality to his solos; as he slowly pushes the melody

up and down the register, his guitar sounds as if it's singing out, a call to

the pleasures of perfectly executed lines and the wonderful abstractions of

guitar solos.

At Saturday night's show at the Middle East, Wareham and

Eden both soloed brilliantly. Drummer Stanley Demeski, opting for tom

polyrhythms instead of the usual snare/bass drum/crash effect of most bands,

and bald-headed and stocky bassist Justin Harwood, bopping around stage like a

less frenetic Flea and maintaining a perfect base with Demeski, round out Luna,

and on Saturday, the quartet showed why they are one of the darlings of the

indie-pop world. Focusing on songs from their most recent album,

Penthouse, Luna never let up their energy for a moment. Faster-paced and

more urgent live than they are on record, the endlessly brilliant turns of

phrases Wareham excels in still stood out. ("I spend too much time in

airplanes, in between us, getting high," on the new tune "Tracy I Love You";

"Out all night chasing girlies, late to work, go home earlies" from

Penthouses "Chinatown," are just two out of dozens of examples.)

Playing ever so subtlety to the crowd, Luna took a request (Bewitched's

"Tigerlily") played a handful of their better known songs, and ended their

hour-plus set with a driving, pulsing "Hidden Thoughts," that ended,

appropriately, with another one of Wareham's absolutely gorgeous solos.

With the crowd at the Middle East going rock-star mad (at one point, a

football-chant of "Luna" even broke out) one encore was inevitable, and "Uptown

at the Zoo" and the slow, mournful "Indian Summer" left the audience

dazzled...dazzled enough, indeed, for them to call Luna out for one more

encore, "Slide," from Luna's debut Lunapark. Still wanting more, the

capacity crowd at the Middle East only started to trickle out when the lights

were turned on and the stereo turned up. Outside in the chilly Boston air,

people huddled around each other, dazed by the performance and reveling in the

experience. One person remarked, "I guess Wareham's Harvard degree didn't do

much for him." It depends whether they teach pop-lyric and melody writing at

the iviest of the Ivys. If so, Wareham surely graduated summa.