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Luna (Thursday and Friday, November 11th and 12th, 2004, Abbey Pub, Chicago)
Britta Phillips of Luna performs at the Abbey Pub, Chicago, Illinois - Photo by Brian Marx (click for full size)

By Brian Marx

Ideally you shouldn’t pay more than $15 for a full-length CD. If you do, you are either comfortably rich, mentally challenged, or desperately in love with a band. When I paid $16.99 for Luna Live (2001) a few years ago, it’s safe to assume that I was 2 for 3 on that venture. Lured in by Borders' listening booths hook, line and sinker, I found the inviting phrases “space rock” and “melodic solos” scrawled across their summary card. I’d never heard them before. But three minutes and fifty-six seconds into the opening track, “Bewitched”, I found myself just that. A few years later, I was told that Luna was regarded by many in the industry as one of the best live acts around today. Last week, that notion was confirmed once again.

Having seen Luna only once before (at First Avenue a few years ago) I have now witnessed their potent live show a mind-numbing four times, three times last week alone. After their website confirmed that Rendezvous (2004) was indeed their farewell album, and that they were on their last ever tour, I decided to make the trip to Chicago for their two shows at the Abbey Pub last Thursday and Friday prior to their Minneapolis appearance at the Fine Line on Sunday night.

If the 400 Bar was much larger and decked out like an Irish beer hall, then the Abbey Pub would be its long lost brother. Set in the northwestern part of Chicago, the surrounding neighborhood is eerily similar to that of the 400 Bar – ethnically diverse and comforting. Thursday’s gig was slated as an +18 show, which gave me lurid flashes of a packed Death Cab for Cutie show. But fortunately, not only was the crowd mostly of-age, but the club wasn’t at capacity, giving me a little freedom to follow Luna singer Britta Phillips - I mean the band - around with my camera. This was a blessing compared to Friday’s +21 gig, which was a sold-out, raucous free-for-all.

I was expecting their shows to be nothing short of life affirming, hence the 400 mile drive. Luna has at their disposal, a proverbial arsenal of charms that help make their live shows so appealing. Whether it’s Phillips’ soft whisper perfectly complementing Dean Wareham’s thick sing-speak, Sean Eden’s and Wareham’s classically constructed almost nonchalant solos, or the bands timeless back catalog from which they can pick and choose songs, Luna rarely bring you back to reality. The band has toured, recorded and been influenced by Lou Reed, the late great Sterling Morrison, and the Velvet Underground, respectively. Enough said.

Brian Marx (hunched over,2nd from right) with the members of Luna

All three shows offered something different. Although Thursday night’s set list seemed to foreshadow their set list from the Fine Line, classics “Bonnie and Clyde”, “I Can’t Wait” and “Bewitched” also made the cut to the delight of an upbeat, if not blatantly drunk Abbey Pub audience. “Bewitched,” played more aggressively live than it was initially recorded, is a tempo builder and a Luna songwriting staple. “Bonnie and Clyde”, a duet cover sang entirely in French by Wareham and Phillips, was originally recorded with none other than Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier. Friday night’s gems included crowd favorite’s “Indian Summer”, “Moon Palace” and “Ihop”.

After the show, I stuck around long enough to meet and greet Sean, Britta, Dean, and Lee (Wall), and got a few choice pictures of (and with) the soon-to-be defunct band. But before they ride off into the sunset, they’ll be hitting up the West Coast in early 2005, with their final shows in their hometown of NYC. Reasons for Luna’s imminent departure were posted by Dean on the news page their website:

Brian Marx is

Setlist from Thursday 11/11/04

Malibu Love Nest
Going Home
The Owl and the Pussycat
Pup Tent
Broken Chair
Double Feature
Mermaid Eyes
I Can't Wait
Black Postcards
Tiger Lily
23 Minutes In Brussels
Bonnie And Clyde (Serge Gainsbourg)

Setlist from Friday 11/12/04

California (All The Way)
The Owl and the Pussycat
Lost In Space
Broken Chair
Sideshow By The Seashore
Malibu Love Nest
Tracy I Love You
Moon Palace
Black Postcards
Into The Fold
Four Thousand Days
Bonnie And Clyde (Serge Gainsbourg)
Friendly Advice
Time to Quit
Season Of The Witch (Donovan Leitch)
Indian Summer (Beat Happening)
Fourth of July

Luna’s website: