Three Years Into Luna’s Afterlife, The Band Returned To DC’s Black Cat With A Heavenly Set

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During the 1990s, Luna was our favorite band.  We probably saw them a dozen times between ’95 and their breakup ten years later.  When they went away, we sorely missed them, but understood they’d taken it as far as they could go (a fact supported by Dean Wareham’s quite excellent 2008 memoir Black Postcards.) By 2004’s Rendezvous, Wareham had seemed lyrically exhausted, even as the songs, and his and Sean Eden’s guitar playing, never sounded better.  So when we saw them at the Black Cat Tuesday night, we were excited but had fairly low expectations.  Rare are the bands that come back from the dead with the capacity to astonish.  Three years into the afterlife, we can report that Luna never sounded better.

In a set notable for the way it folded gorgeous cover songs into the flow — Mission of Burma’s “Car Wash Hair” came early in the set, and Dylan’s best song of the past 30 years, “Some Of The Time,” was brought out in the encore – there was no wallowing in nostalgia.  They played favorite songs, but not “greatest hits,” such as it were.  They seemed to be playing for the joy of playing.  Lee Wall never hit his kit harder. Both Britta and Sean sang songs.  And Dean seemed happy to be with his pals.

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They’ve been back on the road since 2014, and earlier this year released both an album of covers and essentially an E.P. of original instrumentals.  They haven’t quite geared up to go back into studio for a new album of Wareham songs, but time is elastic in the afterlife, and for them, we are patient.

The final few times we saw them before their nearly decade-long break, there was — in comparison to Tuesday’s show — an almost pro forma quality to Dean Wareham’s singing.  A little like Dylan, he would throw the lyrics out, rushed and with little conviction.  In retrospect he likely was expressing frustration with being back out on the road, in fairly small clubs, the band’s fame and fortune locked in that mid-level of rock’n’roll success he describes in his memoir.  When he we saw him on his solo tour (with Britta Phillips on bass) in 2014, fresh from releasing an excellent E.P. and a solid, Jim James-produced solo album, he was relaxed enough to also play his songs from different eras —  those he’d performed in the ’80s with Galaxie 500, and in the ’90s and ’00s with Luna — his heart very much in the show.

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But even then, it was nothing like what seemed to be the genuine joy that he, Britta, Sean, and Lee showed playing together again.  Yes, they’ve been touring pretty regularly for the past three years (and sadly, we’d missed them), but ennui has not set in.

Penthouse provided the evening’s best songs, as of course it would.  “Freakin’ & Peakin,'” a rarity live, was amazing to hear played in concert for the first time.  Between the shimmering lines of Wareham’s guitar and the fuzzy wuzzy atmospherics emanating east of him from Eden, this was pure beauty, and hearing the band together was Heaven itself.

 

 

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