University of London Union, London, 17/1/2005
published: 12 /
On their farewell tour and at their final ever London date, Dominic Simpson watches seminal indie rockers Luna play a thrilling set of new and old classics at the University of London Union
One of the more older and more mature bands to play at the University of London Union, this date is the last that Luna will ever play in London, having decided that they will disband after the tour. The last time this reviewer caught them live, it was at the more intimate surroundings of Camden Dingwalls, and while that gig proved a spellbinding experience, the question is whether they can do the same in the slightly larger surroundings of the ULU.
They’ve played here before, of course, so it’s unlikely that they’d be too daunted – especially for a band in it’s later years that’s been going since the early 90’s and, for frontman Dean Wareham, Galaxie 500 before then since the mid 80’s.
While support act Scanners play a rather nondescript goth rock racket that only really gets interesting in the last song – a kind of epic prog jam with a great echoing high-end riff - it’s left to the main act to get the crowd going as they arrive with ‘Malibu Love Nest’, the opening track on their final album 'Rendezvous', which they despatch energetically. With guitarist Sean Eden on the right of the stage and Britta Phillips on the left, Wareham commands the centre of the stage and runs through a greatest hits of the much of their career which only touches twice more on their coda album –'Speedbumps' and ‘Broken Chair.’ The latter, the spellbinding highlight of the album, is sung by Eden, but live never replicates the majesty of the recorded version. This is in part due to Eden’s voice sounding nervous and off-key, but equally the song is sludgy and never quite gets going.
Instead, it’s left to the run through their back catalogue where the set gets really thrilling: long time favourites like 'Bewitched' and 'Tiger Lilly' that show the bands genius with minimalist, Velvet Underground-like melodies, bittersweet lyrics and reverb-filled sound expanding to it’s full. It’s fitting, then, that half-way through the set we are greeted with the arrival of former Spacemen 3 member Sonic Boom, here to enhance the sound as he plys his trademark droning keyboard sound. The Serge Gainsbourg cover 'Bonnie & Clyde', a regular in their set, is alluring as ever, with the usual French vocal interplay taking place between Wareham and bassist Britta Phillips. Meanwhile, Eden displays his sharp wit when replying back to an audience heckler who yells “Don’t Let Our Waist Go To Waste” (a pun on the Galaxie 500 song, 'Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste', and presumably a reference to Luna’s advancing years): “Hey, we’ve got ourselves a poet here!”
The link between Galaxie 500, Luna and Spacemen 3 are made obvious during the set’s highlight near the end - an awesome, hypnotic two chord version of '23 Minutes in Brussels' (not the Suicide song of the same name, but rather a Wareham tribute) that raises the roof, with drummer Lee Wall attacking his kit with glee, the band creating a swirling dronescape that’s utterly intoxicating and thrilling.
They almost go one better in the second encore with a wistful cover of Beat Happening’s ‘Indian Summer’ (which Sonic Boom has also covered himself). With the knowledge that this is the last song Wareham will ever sing at a London gig – with Luna, at least – the combination of lyrics like “we’ll come back for Indian Summer / and go our separate ways....buckle up, we’re wayward bound” and the song’s childlike melody make the occasion seem incredibly poignant. It’s also an appropriate full circle ending, as Wareham revisits his 80’s indie roots, the song having been released around the same time as Galaxie 500.
And then that’s it. No ten minute display of guitar pyrotechnics before the band leave the stage to fireworks or a gong on fire (as stoner rockers Nebula one did at a Mean Fiddler gig). Of course Luna were never that band; instead, they’ve always been an understated, subtle experience, one for the shy, bookish types. As the lights come up and people trudge away to get their coats, the thought comes that they were never exactly the kind of band either that was going to turn into the karaoke circus that is Rolling Stones or any other turgid act that has far outstayed it’s welcome or descended into acrimony. Instead, they’ve bowed out gracefully and with style. RIP Luna, it was good having you.