Best of Luna
By David Chiu
The atmosphere at Luna’s final show ever at the Bowery Ballroom on Feb. 28, 2005, consisted both of sadness and celebration. It was almost karma-like because there as a blizzard going on outside. There was a melancholy in the air because the veteran New York City-based indie band was still at the top of its game with two excellent albums in the last few years, which makes the split somewhat premature. But the show was also a celebration of twelve wonderful years of Velvets/Television-inspired music.
Tell Me Do You Miss Me, a film about the band by Matthew Buzzell, documents Dean Wareham and co.’s final days touring Japan, Europe and the States leading up to the Bowery show. It’s a penetrating look at the exhaustion of gigging and the personal priorities that consume a band having been around this long—the group members drive in vans, carry their own equipment, and play small venues to faithful fans. The live musical performances (something that Luna has always excelled at) blend in perfectly with the interviews and off-stage moments; the best perhaps are provided by guitarist Sean Eden as he tells stories about puking on the road or his romantic trials and tribulations; the other one standout is Wareham reading the letter from former band mate Justin Harwood on stage at the last show. Hearing the members reminisce about a particular venue on a particular date is really indicative of how road hard they’ve been and the toll it had taken leading to its inevitable conclusion. You also have to be really stoic and blasé to not feel something in the movie’s final scenes as band members hug goodbye and walk off into the snowy New York morning after the show. Buzzell’s point of view is both that of an auteur and fan—the result is something quite poignant—sad yes, but also satisfying.
That sense of weariness is pervasive in Luna’s recorded work although not that quite somber as Wareham’s previous band Galaxie 500. Luna’s music has been characterized by Wareham’s deadpan vocals; the shimmering guitar interplay between himself and Eden; and his lyrics that convey a cinematic/noir-ish feeling. Luna’s earlier work make up a substantial portion on this Best Of; the fact that it has five tracks (including “Chinatown” and “Moon Palace”) from its brilliant 1995 Penthouse shows how great and influential that album was. Longtime fans won’t be surprised to hear favorites on this such as “Friendly Advice” (with some dazzling guitar by the late Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison), “Bewitched,” “23 Minutes in Brussels,” the mesmerizing Tiger Lily, and the slinky Lovedust. A minor quibble: It is lamentable that a few more tracks from the final albums Romantica and Rendezvous—“Cindy Tastes of Barbecue,” “Speedbumps,” and “Black Postcards” as examples—were not on here. Regardless, the set sums up the essence of Luna and what we’ll be missing. New York indie guitar rock has since became mainstream but it was Luna that paved the way, just as VU and Television did before them.