Dean Wareham’s Living Retrospective At DC’s U Street Music Hall

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In the art world, museums sometimes wait until an artist’s demise before putting on a full retrospective of his or her work.  Dean Wareham’s only 50, but last night at the dark and dank U Street Music Hall we were treated to almost a full career’s worth of his brilliant songwriting, canny guitar playing, his emotionally distant but vibrantly alive sensibility. The set began with “Blue Thunder,” from Galaxie 500’s On Fire, which was released in 1989, and ended with that same band’s “Tugboat.”  In between came some of our favorite Luna songs — “Tiger Lilly,” “Lost In Space” — the title track from last year’s Emancipated Hearts mini-album, and an assortment of good ‘uns from the new Dean Wareham  solo album.  His final cuts, which you knew would include covers, were the Luna staple “Indian Summer” (Beat Happening) and New Order’s “Ceremony.”  Yeah, that’s a career-length assortment, minus anything from Dean & Britta’s best — 13 Most Beautiful — which it seems he likes to play in full, not piecemeal in a set like this.

It’s been about 10 years since we’d seen Wareham, nine years since Luna, our favorite band for many years, called it a day.  We did not seen any of the shows that Dean & Britta played showcasing the Galaxie 500 songbook, so last night was the first time we ever heard them play “When Will You Come Home,” the first time out of the maybe 15 times we’ve seen Wareham play that he reached into his grab bag and uncoiled the astonishing guitar work he exhibited as a 25-year old half of his lifetime ago.  He’s got grayish hair now, and wears solid-framed glasses, looking more like a Harvard professor than the Harvard student he was when Galaxie 500 began, but he can still play. OH man, can he still play.  Which is more astonishing, the solos uncorked in “When Will You Come Home” in 1989 or last night?  Well, 25 years ago, Galaxie 500 made our jaws drop (as we heard them on record), because Wareham and his two bandmates had found a more compelling way to jack into the Sterling Morrison-led version of the Velvet Underground than any band we had at that point heard.  Today, it’s every bit as glorious.

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In recent interviews, Wareham has hinted at a return of Luna, or at least that there is a possibility of this happening, whereas there’s no chance he’ll get back together with Damon and Naomi and play Galaxie 500 songs with the original band.  We loved Luna, and our rock’n’roll life has been just that wee bit emptier without them.  But now that Wareham has released, in the span of four or five months, two collections with songs as amazing as “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began” and “Holding Pattern,” and is willing to tour dipping into a playbook that spans 25 years, we’ll be very content.

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