It’s been a decade now since the acrimonious breakup of Galaxie 500. Since the influential downbeat dronesters split in 1991, its members have continued down similar musical paths in new bands. Drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang have remained together through various incarnations, most recently and notably as Damon & Naomi.
The other third of Galaxie 500, singer/guitarist Dean Wareham, has found relatively greater commercial success in his post-Galaxie career. Forming Luna shortly after the breakup, they released an album, Lunapark, that continued very much in the Galaxie tradition of simple chord progressions and fuzzy hollow-body guitars. As the band has progressed however, the sparse style of songwriting has remained, but with a definite effort to hone their sound for a pop audience. With subsequent albums, notably 1994’s Bewitched, and new personnell like guitarist Sean Eden, Luna has seen both their reputation and audience grow far beyond that which Galaxie 500 ever enjoyed.
Not to say that Luna is a household name by any means. Still most popular among the New York hipster elite, they have yet to have a breakout single, in spite of a wealth of worthy material and major label support. It was back to the indies though, with 1999’s The Days of Our Nights. The album was still their most pop-oriented yet, showcasing Wareham’s voice to a degree not previously seen. The album even features a cover of Guns ‘n’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” an attempt at the “ride-a-cover-of-once-popular-song” route to mainstream success that has worked for many bands.
Luna came to the 9:30 Club last Saturday in support of Luna Live!, an album of previously-released material recorded in part at the 9:30 last year. With a new bassist in tow, ice-queen Brita Phillips, they plowed through a set that drew from material no older than Bewitched.
Luna can certainly write a great pop song and they certainly perform tightly as a band. On Saturday night, however, the band seemed apathetic and, frankly, disinterested. Wareham was unenthusiastic at best; about the most he managed to tell the crowd was that the bourbon he was sipping was making his throat scratchy. This comment was particularly telling of Wareham’s new attitude towards his instrument. Since his days in Galaxie 500, Wareham’s vocals have improved dramatically in quality, but somehow his output has progressively lost the ethereal, genuine quality; the scratchiness gave. Eden’s guitar playing, while precise and certainly not bad, was similarly uninspired. The encores were short, but strong, with performances of “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Except for a few diehard fans who responded enthusiastically to their favorite songs, the capacity crowd seemed rather lukewarm. The band played their set well, but it was hard to shake the feeling that they were simply going through the motions.
Particularly worthy of additional mention are openers Aden. The locally based indie pop outfit has been around nearly five years, making consistently solid, inventive pop music. Touring behind their new album Hey 19, lead singer Chris Gramm (son of Texas senator Phil Gramm) and guitarist Kevin Barker have crafted a unique fuzz-jangle amalgam that is worth your attention if you like Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. at their poppier moments. Particularly impressive were performances of “Matinee Idol” and “Pimlico” off the new album.
Check out Aden when they come around next time if you want to hear a fresh, interesting sound that continues to mature. And if you want to see a solid, if not inspiring, performance of good pop music, check Luna out. It is hard to speculate where Luna will go from here, but it’s a safe bet that the trend towards pop polish will continue. While pop songs are what Luna does best, they don’t seem to be very excited about playing them.