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OC LIVE! : POP MUSIC : Wrapped in Velvet Trappings : Fullerton-Bound Luna Follows the Sound of Underground Royalty

October 19, 1995|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It isn't often that four branches of one family are gathered in one place. It happens, symbolically and aesthetically at least, on a song from "Penthouse," the new album by the New York City band Luna.

The family Luna belongs to is New York's proud line of poppy but sinewy underground guitar bands. Its founder, the Velvet Underground, edges out L.A.'s even more obscure Love for the title of Greatest '60s Band So Far Denied Election Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Luna, which plays Friday at Cal State Fullerton, embraces much of the Velvets' style, with its alternating current of jangly, scraping, twined guitars surging ahead with confident thrust and dreamy, languid wallows in introspection.

Sterling Morrison, the Velvet Underground rhythm guitarist who died about two months ago of cancer, made one of his last appearances on record as a guest player on Luna's 1994 album, "Bewitched."

On Luna's new album, the song "23 Minutes in Brussels" finds Luna laying down a Velvets-style groove, which is nothing unusual for leader Dean Wareham and cohorts. The track then moves into a riff borrowed from "Roadrunner," the signature song of the original Modern Lovers.

That early '70s Boston-based band, fronted by Jonathan Richman, became the first of legions of rockers who would eventually take crucial cues from the Velvet Underground.

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Soon enough, it's time, in "23 Minutes," for a guitar solo. Enter guest star Tom Verlaine, whose '70s band, Television, also carried on in the Velvets tradition and augmented it by developing its own expansive, grandly dramatic sense of sonic architecture.

As Verlaine plays a typically probing guitar lead, one witnesses a four-way convergence of kindred bands who are part of a 30-year tradition: the Velvets, Modern Lovers and Television, all brought together under the aegis of Luna.

Wareham, 32, first won a following in modern-rock circles in the late 1980s as singer-guitarist of Galaxie 500, a band known for its glacial rhythms and its upper-crust pedigree: All three members were Harvard graduates. Luna emerged in 1992, as Wareham was joined by alumni of two other esteemed '80s alternative bands: drummer Stanley Demeski of New Jersey's Feelies, and bassist Justin Harwood of the New Zealand group the Chills. Sean Eden subsequently joined to fill out the guitar sound.

Wareham still has a penchant for wallowing on the dreamy, languid side of his Velvets influence; much of the aptly named "Penthouse" captures a specific kind of delicious New York anomie.

The music floats and ripples as Wareham, in his scratchy, wryly hangdog twang, seems to hover above the city's bustle, protected by a cocoon of cottony detachment.

It's a pleasant, half-anesthetized place to be, but the songs are not escapist; Wareham makes it clear that detachment is just the other side of the coin from loneliness, and you can sense that a harsh, demanding world of decisions and consequences is rattling the windows of a penthouse aerie he won't be able to occupy for long.

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By the end, with "Freakin' and Peakin,' " Wareham has been ousted from his comfortable bubble, and he finds himself "out in the streets, the shiverin' streets."

But at least he has that sturdy old Velvets/Television groove to carry him along the frozen, potholed pavement with a steadily revving, heartening surge.

Opening for Luna at the Cal State Fullerton pub is Air Miami, fronted by Mark Robinson and Bridget Cross, formerly of the band Unrest. A debut album, "me. me. me." makes a good first impression with arty, innocent, offbeat pop songs that come in quick, punchy morsels.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

* Who: Luna, with Air Miami opening.

* When: Friday, 8 p.m.

* Where: University Center Pub at Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton. * Whereabouts: Take the Riverside (91) Freeway to State College Boulevard and head north to the campus.

* Wherewithal: $6 to $10.

* Where to call: (714) 773-3501.

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