When Luna passed through the Midwest earlier this winter, I drove two hours on a Tuesday night to see them at a great little bar called the High Dive in downtown Champaign, Ill. There I was, standing 2 feet from Dean Wareham, listening to his raspy voice and melodic guitar resonate. Why, I wondered at that moment, would this band quit? Then I answered my question with look around the half-empty bar.
Wareham announced after the band's eighth album, Rendezvous, came out recently, that it would be Luna's last. He didn't say why. But, after years of making excellent Velvet-Underground inspired pop, Wareham seems tired of trying.
It's a shame that the best music, something I see Luna's as, goes unnoticed by the general public. The reasons are many: Lack of radio and video airplay, lack of support from small labels with even smaller advertising budgets, and — the biggest culprit of all — lazy music consumers.
Often, rock critics love edgy, abrasive music that's definitely an acquired taste. Luna isn't this kind of music. While it follows the melodic, reverb-heavy VU line — see also Lou Reed's solo work, Yo La Tango, the Vulgar Boatmen — Luna is listenable, danceable and, most distinctively, upbeat.
Wareham's voice — sort of Lou Reed meets a Bob Dylan who can carry a tune — meshes well with the wall of guitar that dominates most songs. His lyrics range from surreal to serious with offbeat rhymes that rival the wackiness of Dylan's days with the Traveling Wilburys.
Fittingly, Rendezvous is Luna's best work — rivaling their first masterpiece, Penthouse (1995). It starts strong with the catchy "Malibu Love Nest," the understated "Cindy Tastes of Barbecue" and the rhythmic rocker "Speedbumps" that sounds like something straight from the Feelies — the band that inspired Wareham to launch New-Jersey-based Luna in the beginning.
Other highlights on the album include a remake of the "Astronaut" — a catchy tune that appeared on Luna's 2002 EP Close Cover Before Striking.
While it's not usually the case with most bands, somebody new coming to Luna could start quite nicely with Rendezvous and work backward through Luna's best work. I'd suggest picking up the band's Live album early in the process — that's how I started with Luna.
Thankfully, I still have that album and can listen to it any time I want — reminding myself what it was like to stand right there, smiling and swaying alone in front of the one of the bands I like most.