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Swan songs
Luna call it quits with one more CD and tour
BY MATT ASHARE

The new Luna CD, Rendezvous (Jetset), begins with a simple beat locking into a single-note bass line, guitar chords echoing in the background, and the near-whisper of Dean Warehamís familiar voice intoning what you might call a silly little love song titled, appropriately enough, "Malibu Love Nest." At some point after the first verse, the guitars take over, Sean Eden breaking into a lyrical solo as Wareham strums rapid Velvetsy chords around the soaring single-string lead. Cinematic snapshots of a couple in love ó Italian magazines, crooked skies, names written in the sands of a beach ó abound. And yes, thereís a hint of menace in air, a dark cloud that Wareham seems to see on the horizon, an awareness that down the line thereíll be tragic break-ups, bitter recriminations, deep moments of sadness. It all goes by so quickly, you barely notice that the number is little more than a one-chord vamp. Itís a song that would have fit just as well on 1992ís Lunapark (Elektra), the first album Wareham made after leaving the Boston band Galaxie 500 to form Luna in New York, as it does here on what Wareham promises will be the last proper studio album from a band who, for all the emotional ups and downs that have characterized their songs, have been consistent in their sound and vision over the past dozen years. Theyíll play what may be their last ever area show this Friday downstairs at the Middle East.

Itís no surprise that by the albumís third song, "Speedbumps," the storm suggested in "Malibu Love Nest" seems to be brewing. "I refuse to climb your walls/I donít want to ride your bus/Iím tired of all of us . . . tell who Iím supposed to be." Heís fallen too far, and now heís trying to regain his footing. Sure enough, two songs later, in "Astronaut," he has. "Because your feet are there/My eyes are peeling" is as good a love lyric as Wareham has written. "I donít know what you thought/Iím not your astronaut," he tells the object of his affections, and the band rock about as hard as Luna ever have ó which is to say, just hard enough to get the point across.

If Warehamís intention was for Luna to go out with a bang rather than a whimper, heís succeeded. Rendezvous is as subtly infectious an album as heís ever made with Luna, full of beauty, sadness, ringing chords paired with poetic lyrics, and songs that drift along like pleasant reveries touched by just enough darkness to make it all feel a little dangerous. Yet if heís to be taken at his word, it wasnít an easy album to make. Thatís the first of several reasons for bringing the Luna chapter of his musical life to a close that he gives when I reach him by phone at his Manhattan apartment.

"I guess Iíve hit a wall where making Luna records has become more difficult," he explains in a voice that still bears the accent of his native New Zealand. "I think as bands progress, it takes them longer and longer to make records. Having said that, I feel like we just made a pretty good Luna record. So we could keep going. I donít know . . . what would Karl Marx say? Follow the money. Look at the economics of the situation and that does explain some of it in that I donít think people realize that being in a band is a tough way to make a living. I mean, Iím lucky Iíve been able to make a living doing it, because often the reality of being in a band is that you have to supplement your income a little. And Luna is at a difficult place because we go out on tour and gross a lot of money but we donít really come home with that much. You know, weíll make more playing Philadelphia and Washington in a weekend than we do in a week on tour."

That would be the logical argument for breaking up the band. But Warehamís lyrics are so full of emotional resonance that itís hard to believe there isnít more to it than that. Luna fans will surely look for clues on Rendezvous. In "Motel Bambi," he asks "Where has all the sunshine gone?" again and again, with the bandís bassist (and his girlfriend), Britta Phillips, with whom heís already recorded one non-Luna album as a duo, whispering the same ominous phrase in the background. "We donít belong here/We canít compete/We donít belong anymore," he finally decides. That could be an allusion to the band.

Then again, the people in Warehamís songs always seem to be falling in and then out of love with something or someone as they try to find their place in the world. And though there may not be a method to their particular brand of madness, thereís always been a trademark sound to Warehamís songwriting and recordings. With both Galaxie 500 and Luna, heís recorded consistently excellent albums and EPs, never detouring from the Velvetsy path he set out on in the late í80s. There hasnít been much new to say about Luna as members have come and gone, a major-label contract has run its course, and Wareham has written song after song after song. A resurgence of interest in Galaxie 500 led to the release of a box set on Rykodisc a few years ago and, just this year, a two-disc DVD of live performances and videos called Galaxie 500 1987-1991: Donít Let Our Youth Go to Waste (Plexifilm). But Wareham hasnít participated very actively in those Galaxie 500 projects: theyíve been stewarded lovingly by the bandís other two members, the Boston-based duo of drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang, who continue to perform and record together as a duo.

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Issue Date: November 5 - 11, 2004
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