Archive for Luna

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

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on November 16, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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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.

 

 

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.

Great Interview With Dean Wareham By Rick Moody

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2013 by johnbuckley100

We are never surprised to read an intelligent essay on music by the novelist Rick Moody, whose thoughts on Brian Eno last year were, to our ears, note perfect.  Now, over at Rumpus.net, Moody has turned his gimlet eye to Dean Wareham, on the occasion of excellent new mini-album, Emancipated Hearts, which we wrote about last week.

First, have we mentioned what a joy it is to have Wareham reengaged at this level — not just putting out a solo album with songs that rank with the best of his work with Luna or Galaxie 500, but also sitting for an interview with so intelligent an interlocutor? Wareham’s sensibility has been missed.  It’s not just the melodies he writes, the tasteful lines woven by his guitar, his quirky, limited, but reassuring singing.  His is a speaking voice that needs to be heard, or at least read on the page.

Read the piece, and the interview.  It’s a calm conversation between two masters of their form.  We greatly enjoyed Wareham’s definition of what he seeks when writing a song.

Rumpus: Is a “state of bliss” the more ordinary goal of the popular song?

Wareham: Well there are different kinds of blissful states. I can get there with Brahms’ “German Requiem” or Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” but also with “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk. But if I look at my own recordings, I think generally there is a focal point within the song and often it’s the instrumental bridge or a guitar solo where we try to do something unexpected, something beautiful or weird, or beautiful because it is weird. And of course I fail half the time, but yes that is the goal, to create even a few seconds of bliss, or sadness. The electric guitar is a great instrument for doing this because it is capable of surprising you. There are so many different sounds available.

There’s more like that there.  And if you haven’t downloaded Emancipated Hearts yet, get cracking.

 

Dean Wareham’s Warm Heart Pastry

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Dean Wareham’s Emancipated Hearts was released today.  Not quite an E.P., not quite an album, it is — when the B-side to “Love Is Colder Than Death”  is added to the tally — six new Wareham compositions and a cover of The Incredible String Band’s “Air.”  It is a beautiful, modest collection of songs that make us yearn for more — more Wareham in any form he’s willing to give us: solo artist, in tandem with Britta Phillips, or as a leader of a band.

While “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Begins” hauntingly lingers in the mind, the title track, “Emancipated Hearts,” is the stunner here.  When you think about Wareham’s sensibility — writing often gorgeous melodies, post-folk sensitive songs as pretty as anything by Robyn Hitchcock — it’s a revelation to realize we’ve never really heard one of his songs with a piano on it, and only rarely with cello or viola.  Wareham has always surrounded his melodies with delectable guitar lines, so purely in the mode of Sterling Morrison’s work with the Velvet Underground that, in fact, the ur-Luna breakthrough, “Friendly Advice,” even featured Morrison.  Here, though, we have piano and viola as emollients and the resulting raga completes a circle, as “Emancipated Hearts” sounds like it could easily have been a collaboration with the fellow-traveling Velvets acolyte Anton Newcombe on some long lost  Brian Jonestown Massacre album, even as it weaves in the tune from “The Little Drummer Boy.”

On Dean and Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful, Wareham recycled Luna’s “The Enabler” as “Herringbone Tweed,” updating a melody for his post-Luna incarnation.  Here he builds “The Ticking Of The Bomb” on the chassis of Luna’s “Hello Little One,” and with the expanded instrumentation used here, it takes a pleasing melody into breathtaking sublimity.  More of this, sir, please?  In fact, the whole mini-album is a tease, like reading a short story in The New Yorker by your favorite author, and while savoring it, it produces that feeling that will only be satisfied by a whole new book.

We love that he chose to play “Air,” a song by the Incredible String Band, and wish only that he could have recorded ISB leader Mike Heron’s “Warm Heart Pastry.”  This is an aspect of Wareham’s talent that is under-exploited: reviving sounds of late ’60s British folk rock.  Again, let’s have some more of this, Dean, ok?

Last week we wondered if Wareham was hinting at a Luna reunion in his review of the new Mazzy Star album.  We don’t really care what form more music from Dean Wareham comes in: a solo album of requisite length, more work with Britta, reunion of Luna.  It has been about eight years since Luna broke up, and on 13 Most Beautiful and now on Emancipated Hearts we have a reminder of how Dean Wareham is a talent of the first rank, his heart emancipated, his songwriting reliant on more than just his magical guitar work to fulfill a song.  May we have another helping?

UPDATE: The original version of this post stated that this was the first collection ever released by “Dean Wareham.”  Our friends at A Headful of Wishes pushed back on this assertion.  So it turns out the “Anesthesia” E.P., released in 1992, really was a “Dean Wareham” release.  We stand corrected.  Because two of the three songs on it were on Luna’s initial release, Lunapark, and because we never saw the 12″ or 7″ vinyl releases, we always assumed this was Luna, and it was a mistake to credit it to Wareham.  Live and learn.

Is Dean Wareham Saying What We Think He’s Saying?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on October 11, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Yesterday, Dean Wareham (Luna, Galaxie 500, Dean & Britta) posted an excellent review of the new Mazzy Star albumSeasons of Your Day.  It was a smart, thoughtful take on an album that, frankly, we’d found disappointing.  It led us back to the album, and yes, its quiet charms revealed themselves as we listened to it longer.  We’re appreciative of  Dean Wareham’s impetus for a reconsideration.

That Wareham is — in addition to being an elegant guitarist and the writer of some the best songs of the last 25 years — a strong writer is not a surprise to us.  Black Postcards, his autobiography, sits on a nearby shelf.

And that his new solo album, out Tuesday, is available for streaming over at Spin.com has been one of the delights of our week.  It’s a partial album — six songs, plus a bonus track — and like 2010’s 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol — it has tantalizing morsels that remind us of why, when we launched Tulip Frenzy several years ago, our description of it was as “a blog focusing on favorite artists such as Luna…”  There’s a reason why Luna came first in our list of favorite artists.  From 1995 til their breakup in 2005, Luna was, by a long margin, our favorite band.  While we understood why they broke up — an inability to have their music heard by, and their records sold to, a large enough audience; the hard life of a mid-tier band — when they walked away from their goodbye show in New York, it was a dark day around our house.  Wareham’s book was a revelation — other than Keith Richards’ Life, the best rock’n’roll autobiography of all time — but his recorded work with wife Britta Phillips has come out in smallish batches, we missed his touring last year with his Galaxie 500 songbook, and as excited as we are about the gorgeous Emancipated Hearts, we know already it will only pique our yearning for something more, something bigger, a fuller album.

Which is why, when we read yesterday’s review of Mazzy Star’s first record in 17 years, this jumped out at us:

“I have to think that maybe an extended hiatus is a good idea for a band — if you can afford it — just step off the treadmill of touring and writing and recording, and return when you have something to say, when the songs are ready. Aside from the challenge of having to write new songs year in and year out, making records over a long period of time means you have to make an effort to remember your strengths, or what inspired you to make music in the first place, and stay true to that, blocking out extraneous noise from radio, from advisers, fans and critics, magazines and blogs (this last one not even a word when the previous Mazzy Star album came out in 1996).”

Is Dean Wareham hinting that Luna could, under the right circumstances, be reformed?  Is he envisioning a moment when the time for a Luna reunion could be ripe? We can only hope.

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