Live Review: Luna @ Morrocan Lounge, January 12, 2018
The second of back-to-back nights at Moroccan Lounge, Luna, the longtime literate guitar pop outfit, once identified with New York cool in the 90’s, now mostly LA-based, delivered a treat of a live show at the intimate venue, kicking off a quick eight date West Coast jaunt (they pick it up again January 23 in Seattle).
The sold-out smaller room, intentionally or not, gave the band–Dean Wareham, of course, vocals/guitar, alongside the current lineup, steady since the turn of the millennium–Sean Eden, lead guitar; Britta Phillips, bass/vocals; Lee Wall, drums–a bit of a garage-y feel, coming across at times louder and rawer than usual for them. It worked, particularly on longer, louder jams like “Friendly Advice” and “Freakin’ and Peakin’” (from Penthouse, probably most widely considered their classic LP, is well represented with five cuts tonight).
After a decade long hiatus, Luna reactivated in 2015 for a well received live tour and have been active since. Last summer they delivered their first new recordings in thirteen years: an eclectic collection of cover versions, A Sentimental Education (smart covers long being a key component of the Luna catalog) and an e.p. of new original instrumentals, A Place Of Greater Safety.
The prior is uncommonly satisfying for a covers album, a genre which can be reduced to filler to satisfy contracts in the hands of lesser bands. It’s a tasteful grab bag of music lover pics–deep album cuts and obscure gems from from (mostly) familiar names across the pop spectrum. Tonight’s setlist pulls “Gin” (Willie Alexander), “One Together” (pre-Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac), and “Most of the Time” (late 80’s Dylan) from the collection. That these all sound instantly like Luna songs despite their varied origins is testament to the indelible sonic imprint of the band–in particular Dean’s voice and those chiming guitars–and the rock solid songwriting chops the band have always displayed in their originals.
Rejuvenated since their return, the band is locked in and good spirits. Sean, ever the affable goof, to Dean’s more measured deadpan (though no less funny), as usual chewing gum throughout and telling stories. There’s one about walking around L.A., picking up a burrito, as you do; there’s one about a dead cat in a freezer in Dumbo (you had to be there).
While early favorites like “Tiger Lily” and “California” are absent from the set, as well as anything from the underrated 1997 Pup Tent LP, the show satisfied, hitting a lot of the band’s catalog while working in the newer covers. Britta gets a turn at lead vocals on “One Fine Summer Morning,” an Evie Sands cover she’s previously released under her own name.
The focal point of any Luna live show is going to be Dean, obviously. He’s in fine form, the voice is holding up (it always sounded perfectly world weary and wizened) and looking well, now a Los Angeles resident along with Britta, his crumpled chic professorial rock star style aging elegantly before us into his 50’s.
Eleanor Friedberger, genius ex-Fiery Furnaces singer-songwriter, now well into her solo career, set the tone with fun opening set of her distinct jangly tunes. Backed by her Fender Strat or a track streamed right off her phone, her diaristic tales set to inventive arrangements are one of a kind, even in stripped down form. She’s on the verge of releasing new music on her 4th LP, a couple of samples of which we got tonight–no surprise: they’re excellent. She let us in on a secret: she’ll be back playing this same room with full band in May.