Archive for Dean & Britta

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

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on April 5, 2014 by johnbuckley100

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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.

Dean Wareham’s Reemergence Is The Most Delightful Thing Happening In Music Today

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on March 15, 2014 by johnbuckley100

There’s a lot of competition for the title of “most important figure in alternative rock not grasped by the masses,” but surely Dean Wareham wins it.  Both his prior bands, Galaxie 500 and Luna, have cult followings, and interestingly they don’t completely overlap — those who adored the prior don’t necessarily love the latter, and vice versa.  We loved both, and not fully satisfied with the first couple of post-Luna Dean & Britta albums, it was a welcome development in late autumn 2013 when Wareham released a really excellent “mini album” entitled Emancipated Hearts.  This past week he released Dean Wareham, his first real solo album, and in and of itself it is worthy of celebration.  Combined with Emancipated Hearts it may justify a reevaluation of Wareham, and the critical appraisal that he’s due.

Wareham’s an unusual figure in rock’n’roll, New Zealand-born, New York City-raised, an attendee of The Dalton School and Harvard who also wrote one of the best rock-star autobiographies ever, Black Postcards, which came out in 2008, three years after Luna’s demise.  He packs a non-standard punch, insofar as Ivy League-educated alternative rock figures go, in that his singing voice has always been an acquired taste, he plays the most tasteful, masterful lead guitar, writes melodies as gorgeous as anything by Dylan or Robyn Hitchcock, and yet even as a clearly strong writer, few of his songs have much lyrical weight to them.  This is one reason, probably, why he’s never been championed by rock critters as the Living Master that he is.  His songs are beautiful, his bands are great, his singing actually is endearing, his guitar playing prompts drooling, but he’s never strived for real profundity as a songwriter.  And in fact, as soon as we heard Luna’s final album, the elegiac and gorgeous Rendezvous, we suspected things were coming to an end, because he could barely bestir himself to populate the songs with something other than nonsense couplets.

Dean & Britta’s 2010 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, a body of work commissioned by the Warhol Foundation folks in Pittsburgh, was a masterpiece.  And then a few of the songs on Emancipated Hearts, particularly the title track and “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began,” revealed a lyrical weight worthy of Wareham’s obvious literacy and articulation.  He’s trying again, and with Dean and Britta having moved from NYC to a new milieu in Los Angeles, a reemerging Wareham is producing the best music of his long and glorious career.

Dean Wareham is produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and it is an old-fashioned, two-sided LP.  Yes, of course, it’s a digital download and a CD, but it is structured pretty much as two distinct sides.  Something that has always been hard to reconcile is Wareham’s admiration both for the songwriting of his friend Lou Reed and his taste for Glen Campbell.  Yes, you read that right.  But on his solo album, the softer first side and the harder-hitting second half for the first time make these seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his musical personality make sense.  We have spent years culling our favorite songs from Luna albums onto play lists, which assumes also that there are songs we leave behind.  But this is an album you can play all the way through, enjoying everything.

It really takes off in the album’s final 25 minutes, beginning with the breathtaking “Holding Pattern,” but we can’t imagine dropping the first side’s songs out of any playlist.  “Babes In The Woods” finishes with a structure those who loved “Friendly Advice” from Luna’s live shows will surely recognize, and both versions of “Happy & Free” will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s spent the evening driving with Galaxie 500 or Luna on the tape deck.

Black Postcards was a book that reminded mamas not to raise their kids to be rock stars, but 25 years or more into his career, Wareham’s status as national treasure is more than confirmed by Dean Wareham.  We think it is his most satisfying album, and that’s really saying something.

Can’t Get Dean Wareham’s “Holding Pattern” Out Of My Head

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on February 23, 2014 by johnbuckley100

When Luna broke up nine years ago this week, we were melancholy and resigned, appreciative of the pleasure this favorite band had given us, on record, and in the 20 or so shows of theirs we’d seen over a 10-year period.  We remembered, with poignancy, that free show we saw in the courtyard between the two World Trade Center buildings that evening in late August 2001, walking away from the show to catch a taxi that would take us to our Shuttle flight back to Washington after a day of work in New York, listening to “Bonnie and Clyde” as we entered the cab, gazing back one last time to see our favorite band, maybe two weeks before the towers were destroyed.  We remembered all the hours we’d listened to Penthouse.  We were satisfied to have what we had, with low expectations about what was to come.  Would Wareham ever again produce music equal to what he’d done with Luna and Galaxie 500?

It took a few years, really until the release in 2010 of Dean & Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful, to listen to new music from Dean Wareham that not only was as good as, but in terms of its beauty and emotional effect actually surpassed what he’d done with Luna and Galaxie 500.  Then this past fall, he released the Emancipated Hearts mini album, and honestly, it had songs that were on a par with “Black Postcards” and “Weird and Woozy.”  The production by Justin Quaver was gorgeous, with a chamber pop delicacy on the best songs — cello and piano augmenting Wareham’s oddly affecting singing and, of course, his gorgeous guitar playing.

But now we have the first single from the eponymous Dean Wareham solo album, produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and due out on March 11, and let us just say that “Holding Pattern” is gorgeous, catchy, and has wormed its way into my head.  It shows little of the delicacy of, say, “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion” on Emancipated Hearts.  Yet it’s a reminder why, for more than 10 years, Luna was the band we paid the most attention to.  Can’t wait for the solo album to be released.

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