The 90’s dream pop group Luna played White Eagle Hall in Jersey City on Friday night, as they made a triumphant return to the stage after their tour was long-delayed by the pandemic. Luna is the brainchild of singer and guitarist Dean Wareham, and his gorgeously swooning voice was in full hypnotic force for this show. Dean’s previous band Galaxie 500 was quite influential to myself personally, as when I saw them the first time when I was just 19, and I remember being totally transfixed by his wistful and undulating harmonies. His deeply dark and dreamy sound also helped define the pre-grunge explosion alternative music scene of the late 80’s. In 1991 the band broke up, and he straightaway formed a new band with Feelies drummer Stanely Demeski and Chills bassist Justin Harwood that displayed a far more up-beat sound, and they soon after changed up their lineup with drummer Lee Wall and guitarist Sean Eden who both helped add a bit of charismatic spunk and expanded their sound into a new level of indie pop greatness. They released a several relatively successful albums before being dropped from their Elektra label in 2000, but Dean kept it going strong, while also adding Belltower bassist Britta Phillips (who was probably best known as the singing voice of Jem in the early 90’s Jem & The Holograms cartoon), but the two soon became romantically involved, which led to Dean’s eventual divorce, and they became quite inseparable both personally and professionally, as even after Luna disbanded in 2005, and the couple continued to play and record as Dean & Britta.
In 2015 they started playing again, and even released some new studio material. They did have some live dates planned that were interrupted by the pandemic, and even though Dean & Britta had a regular live show streamed largely from their living room, it was extremely great to see the full lineup back in action after a long year off. They were such a major part of the NYC music scene for many years, and even after they relocated to LA many years back, it is always particularly electrifying to see them return to the Big Apple area as you can always feel the extra charge it adds to their performance. Dean Wareham was not entirely inactive during the Covid lockdown, as he did just release an epic solo album called I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A., and I really cannot rave enough of this charming piece of dreamy ear candy, as his music has really begun to soak up a lot more of that sunny California ambiance, and it feels like a transcendent element to his daydreaming tunes.
Opening this show was a group called The Natvral, which is the creation of singer and guitarist Kip Berman, whom you may remember as the serenading frontman of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. This is the first time I’ve seen Kip play with a full band in quite some time, as the last few times I have seen him play he’s been performing as a one-man solo artist. The new band included Crystal Stilts/Woods keyboardist Kyle Forester and long-time collaborators bassist Jacob Sloan and drummer Brian Alvarez. His solo sound is a less like the alt rock sounds of his past band and a lot more like hearing Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen team-up with the Jesus and the Mary Chain, but the result is uniquely full of raw passion and meticulously gorgeous lyrics. Kip just released the first full Natvral album called The Tethers, and it is stunning work of earthy goodness with lots of deeply gut-wrenching lyrics and folksy warmth.
Luna played an amazing setlist of classic tunes for their set and they clearly enjoyed playing together on stage again. They dedicated their classic jam “Superfreaky Memories” to a local friend who recently past away from Covid, and those lyrics of “it’s winter in New Jersey and it’s Christmas in New York” seemed particularly apt for the rapturous performance. Their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Most Of The Time” for the first song of the encore was magnificent, with Dean’s voice adding so much more depth to the sound. They started their tour in in Austin where they played the albums Bewitched and Penthouse in full, and although they did not do the full albums at this show they ended up very nearly playing most of the latter.
Their rendition of “Moon Palace’ was truly transcendent, and it reminded me of the heavy trippy Television influence that permeated the track, as I had almost forgotten guitarist Tom Verlaine also played on the original. Dean also remarked about how the click noise affected their cover of the Serge Gainsbourg track “Bonnie and Clyde,” and with all of its salty French lyrics with Britta taking of the creamy duet duties from Lætitia Sadier of Stereolab fame who performed on the original. They also took it home with the show’s closer “23 Minutes To Brussels” that brought back that infectious groove that gets their fans coming out of the woodwork every time they play.
Article/Images: Dean Keim