TVD Live: Luna at the 9:30 Club, 10/5

On the various Luna tours the band has launched since it reunited in 2015 following a 10 year pause, they almost seemed miffed to have to play the old stuff fans wanted. Not that they had much new material— just an album of covers and another of instrumentals.

But now, embarked on one of those full album recitals popular with heritage groups, they seemed to have turned the corner into appreciating anew all that they accomplished. The showcase for an early show at the 9:30 Club in Washington Saturday was the 1995 album Penthouse from start to finish—though some stops have been showcasing the two prior albums, Lunapark and Bewitched, in their entirety.

But Penthouse might have been the best of the three to see, featuring the band at its prime, with a lazy surf-like riff to start with “Chinatown,” then the wavy, underwater-like figure on “Sideshow by the Seashore.” It wasn’t quite the lineup the band had when it recorded the album 24 years ago—Britta Phillips played bass in place of the originating Justin Harwood, and Penthouse was the last album for drummer Stanley Demeski, who’d go on to The Feelies; it’s been the hard-hitting Lee Wall ever since.

But Dean Wareham held court front and center as he always did, with his searching, mysterious lyrics in deadpan tones and interesting guitar figures. And still with him, trading off on some guitar interplay was Sean Eden, who has been around since their second album. It’s a formidable group, who face one another when they’re sitting out sparks of elongated anthems as if they’re a jam band on long workouts like “23 Minutes in Brussels” or “Freakin’ and Peakin,’” which speeds up, slows down and speeds up again before it ends.

But they’re also capable of sharp and short rockers, such as the album’s “Hedgehog,” which Wareham declared “I kind of like it now.” He sang his tunes as if learning something new about his 32-year-old self. “I just realized there are two songs on this albums that mention snakes,” he said after one of them, in “Double Feature,” and before the other, “Rhythm King.”

Wareham seemed especially happy about the young fans that rung the front row of the quite-full club. It wasn’t just the result of an early-bird show; their parents must have introduced them to the glories of the 90s sounds. “Cool parents took them to a Luna show,” Wareham said. “When my parents took me to my first rock show, it was Leo Sayer,” adding a sung line of “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” “It was a free show,” he explained.

Phillips’ basslines were solid and she seemed a bit underutilized, mostly approaching the microphone to occasionally sing the occasional onomatopoeic lines in the chorus (though, as if to compensate, she was mixed quite loudly). But when they reached the “hidden track” of Penthouse, she got to step forward do the female half of those French lyrics that Serge Gainsbourg sang with Brigitte Bardot on the original “Bonnie and Clyde” (and that Lætitia Sadler of Stereolab sang on the Luna recording).

Freed to play a handful of other songs at the end of the set, the band chose “California (All the Way)” and “Friendly Advice” from Bewitched. Eden lent lead vocals for the only time all night on “Broken Chair” from Rendezvous, from which they also did “Malibu Love Nest.”

And under the gun to get out of the club before 9 p.m. and a scheduled second event, they closed the main set with their beloved Beat Happening cover, promising “We’ll come back for Indian Summer.” But on an autumn day when it already hit 95 degrees, maybe they already fulfilling that vow.

SETLIST
Chinatown
Sideshow by the Seashore
Moon Palace
Double Feature
23 Minutes in Brussels
Lost in Space
Rhythm King
Kalamazoo
Hedgehog
Freakin’ and Peakin’
Bonnie and Clyde
California (All the Way)
Broken Chair
Malibu Love Nest
Pop Tent
Indian Summer

Friendly Advice

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