It's not Dream Pop, it's a pop dream - Luna in Texas (2: Austin)
At the beginning of May Joakim and Ulrika travelled from Stockholm to Texas and Luna - in part two Joakim, Ulrika and Mike arrive in Austin. Part one saw them in Dallas and you can see a list of all Joakim's previous posts to A Head Full of Wishes.
After an hour and half drive from Dallas to Austin Mike said, "I wonder if we’ll see the white van on the road".
It's a silly dream I've had, to listen to a concert I attended the night before while on the way to the next concert in a new city.
We listened to yesterday's Luna concert in the car on our way to Austin from Dallas. It's a silly dream I've had, to listen to a concert in the car I attended the night before while being on the way to the next concert in a new city. With Mike, that is possible. 23 Minutes in Brussels was playing loud in the car. I looked out the window from the passenger's seat in the front, we were passing a big white van. Behind the steering wheel was Dean.
Suddenly our black General Motors started to rumble and behave strangely, like we had a flat tyre. Mike pulled to the side, and the white van was gone in the Texas morning. There was nothing seriously wrong with our car and finally the majestic sand coloured buildings of Austin smiled at us and said hello.
We checked in at our hotel and went next door to an outdoor place called Easy Tiger. It was warm, the sky clear blue, a gentle breeze. I had beef sirloin with chimichurri. I love the combination of tender, grilled meat and a refreshing sauce made of garlic, oil, vinegar and lots of chopped fresh herbs. No other sides needed. A bunch of girls laughing at the table next to us, some guys playing outdoor table tennis in the corner. Austin seemed like a very good place to be in.
Luna was about to play at a place called The Mohawk, a ten minute walk from the hotel. We got there early, as always, the bar was open but not the doors to the outside venue. We stumbled upon Sean, he's always cheerful and puts a smile on your face.
And we met Ashley, she's both peculiar and spectacular, very funny and charming, always has something to say. We met in New York last year and I think we get along well, at least Ulrika and her, I just keeping saying weird stuff to her. She was worried the mosquitos were going to be bad that night, I told her to cover herself in bourbon.
And we met Britta, she wanted to hear one of the songs from her solo set from Dallas that Mike had recorded, "the band need to practise on this one", she told Mike. I'm pretty sure I knew which one she meant. It was the only song that was a little off. She is very keen on getting it right. Britta is a perfectionist. I would have loved hearing her telling Sean and Dean to shape up. And to Lee to hit the thirds and nothing else, or whatever a band leader says to the drummer.
The doors opened and we placed ourselves in the front as always, while Mike started to set up his equipment at the back. We met a lovely couple from San Antonio, Joe and Ilene. They saw two or three shows the year before, Joe was wearing a tuxedo at the New Year's gig, Dean asked him if he "[was] going to a party afterwards". "I am at the party", Joe replied. At least that's the story I remember.
Joe was wearing a tuxedo at the New Year's gig, Dean asked him if he "[was] going to a party afterwards". "I am at the party", Joe replied
We talked for a long time about music from San Antonio and Austin. And we met another nice woman, she was seeing Luna for the first time since they quit eleven years ago. She was excited to say the least. We all knew how she felt.
Ilene asked what songs we really wanted to hear. "Realistically or not?" I asked. I like hearing songs I haven't heard live before, especially new songs. But far from always, rare or new songs turn out the be the best of the night. Lovedust, Broken Chair, I Want Everything. There are so many gems they aren't playing. We all agreed on that Malibu Love Nest is fantastic. Conversations like this usually end that way.
A strange tall figure with messy hair is walking around backstage, wearing khaki shorts a short blue jacket with gold painted lapels. "It is probably Terry Tolkin" Ulrika says. He got Dean a record deal with Elektra, and Dean started Luna. And there was another oddity in his company. I didn't know then, but later we found out it was Kramer, the producer that created the Galaxie 500 sound together with the trio. Kramer also produced both Damon & Naomi's and Low's fantastic debut albums.
Ulrika even has several of Kramer's solo records, neatly sorted next to all other Luna and Galaxie 500 related records. There's everything from all Angel Corpus Christi records to Japanese band Ghost. From The Pastels to The Belltower. And there's a collection called Sweetheart with Dean & Britta on it, I really like that record. And Magic Hour, they were really good. And The 6ths.
A beautiful warm night, the blue sky is getting darker. It's Cinco de Mayo, and there is a mariachi band playing next door, another outdoor venue. It adds to the mood. The Mohawk is crowded, the balcony too, it's lively but with a friendly and excited atmosphere.
Britta's band comes up on stage. Sean is gone, no one knows where he is, the only way to find him is to get up on stage Britta says, and then he comes running behind the drums. With his sunglasses in place.
Again, it's a beautiful set of songs, starting with One Fine Summer Morning, an absolutely adorable song, they are all facing Lee during the long intro. Lee is playing the drums with his bare hands at first, then picks up his sticks and the rhythm get stronger. Dean is playing some small licks on the guitar, seated on his chair. Marte looking cool and playing melody lines on her red Nord Electro keyboards.
… she wrote it when she used to live in Chinatown with a weird roommate that she found on Craigslist. I guess it wasn't Dean.
Britta is introducing the next song called Daydream by saying she wrote it when she used to live in Chinatown with a weird roommate that she found on Craigslist. I guess it wasn't Dean. It sounds really good. And I still haven't heard Britta sing a false note, she really is a magnificent singer with a unique and hitting voice. The ending with Drive is still one of the best moments of the whole night.
Suddenly the strange tall figure with messy hair jumps up on the stage, it is Terry Tolkin, he introduces the band by saying "Luna this is Austin, Austin this is Luna". After the applause Dean is smiling and the band starts playing Egg Nog, the melodic instrumental b-side of the Indian Summer EP. I made a poster of the cover, with the pomegranate, framed it and gave it to Ulrika for Christmas last year, it's in our living room. I really like hearing it, I'm pretty sure I've never heard that one before. They heard me.
"You're out all night, chasin' girlies". Chinatown, the song is of course about Terry. "You're late to work, and you go home earlies." When it ends, Dean starts to tell his admiration for him and says, "the gentlemen that introduced us is Terry, he signed Luna to Elektra Records a long time ago." It's all a bit touching, a nice moment in the Austin night.
They speed things up with Speedbumps. The sound tonight is much more intense, more rhythmical, heavier, direct. It was a great show in Dallas, but the band is even more on fire tonight. Maybe it's the weather, or something like that, but we just can't stop smiling.
It's nice to be outside and see the band play, it's nice to look up and see the dark blue sky, yellow lights from the street lights and buildings reflect on the faces in the audience. It's nice to feel the warm breeze in my neck.
Dean places himself next to Britta on the small stage, facing Sean who is playing most of the solos on Going Home, always using the whammy of his guitar a lot, one of his signatures, creating this dream like sound. But I still wouldn't call Luna dream pop like others do. I don't think either the Luna sound or the lyrics are dream pop. They are not dreaming enough. And the lyrics are clever observations or cold assessments. "I'm keeping all the secrets, and I have nothing else to say."
But there are love songs too. "Honey bunny, come on". Dean takes the leads on Malibu Love Nest like always, with his heavily melodic and rhythmical sound. During the ending, when both Sean and Dean are hammering the chords, the crowd always goes wild. They could play that ending for an hour, but it's not dream pop, it's a pop dream.
Suddenly there's a loud cheer from the venue next to us and Dean is making up things again. "You know what it is, they are showing a replay of when Ted Cruz is pulling out of the race". It's funny. Some in the audience are laughing, some are cheering. It's warm night, the moon man light and crooked sky are keeping us company, we are having a great time.
Sean's parents are sitting on the upper side balcony a few meters above him. His mother is smiling throughout the whole show, just like we do. His father is sneaking around taking pictures. It's fun to watch. It's obvious that Sean's about to take a step closer to the microphone.
Dean jokes about Keith Relf, the vocalist from The Yardbirds who actually died from electrocution when playing. Sean's microphone is giving him electric shocks. It's probably not what you want to feel when you are about to sing.
We've heard him sing Still at Home on many occasions by now, and he sings it wonderfully, with a little bit of variation in the phrasing, like he is searching for the lyrics on purpose, which gets the effect that some lines stand out more. "I got a cold master", he sings and laughs, it's great to hear, I love hearing things differently, I focus and listen. "She's gonna tell you, she's gonna break my back with a bit of amusement, oh man." Oh, man! I always love hearing Sean do this song.
"The sky is painted, deep shades of blue", Dean is singing direct and clear, into the night and it sparkles. I really like it when the songs gets more intense when played live, when there is a little bit more liveliness. If they did it even more, did things that weren't planned, which they probably hate hearing… well, I wouldn't mind that at all.
The sirens of a police car is heard on the streets outside, or maybe it’s the fire brigade. I can't tell the difference, but it makes the night even more real. Because it's hard to believe I'm really in Texas, watching Luna play. I just can't believe it. Maybe I am here. Maybe I really am.
"Pedalitus, when something is wrong with your pedals but you don't know what it is." It's Dean again, when Sean is leaning over and complaining about his pedals. Dean starts singing Moon Palace from the album Penthouse. He is good at that, switching fast from a humorous comment to a song with a completely different emotional expression.
"I had to be drunk just to look at your face", he continues in Friendly Advice, he articulates every word clear like a lecturer, but a lecturer probably wouldn't say something like that to the students, maybe if they weren't quiet. A song that makes the audience go either quiet or very loud is a good song.
Talking about songs, it's a bit of mystery that they aren't playing songs from Romantica. Now is the time they really need to do it. Britta is very focused on her solo project and would probably get a fuel injection by playing something that she was involved with when recording the original material, more than just a few songs from Rendezvous.
Britta's sweet, strong voice is a fantastic contrast to Dean's. And Dean's guitar is a fantastic contrast to Sean's. You can't take away anything, but you can dig deeper into what you already have. Maybe they think they need a keyboard player for those songs, but they don't, the audience wants to hear Luna play songs like they're doing now, not a song exactly like it can be heard on the album, there's no point in that. Dean says that the songs from Romantica are too personal to sing, that there was so much going on in his life during the recording of that album. That's an excuse harder to ignore. But the audience don't know anything about that, the audience still wants to hear a good song, songs that means a lot to them.
… it's a bit of mystery that they aren't playing songs from Romantica. Now is the time they really need to do it
Having said that, I don't think an artist should do what the fans wants, because the fans can never lead the artist forward, only backwards. The greatest artists follow themselves. That's how we got an infinitely large number of great pieces of art no one even knew they could have. I don't know why I never remember to ask these kind of questions to Dean or to the band when we meet. I think I need to write it down.
Slide is the first encore. Dean shows us what an e-cigarette looks like compared to his e-bow. Indian Summer is always a treat. As the second encore Dean comes back and dedicates the next song to Terry, "and to Kramer too who’s here also", he says. People are screaming for Tugboat. And they play Tugboat. We discussed the meaning of the song in the car later, on our way to Houston. I said that Sterling Morrison worked as a tugboat captain after he quit playing in Velvet Underground. It's true, he did, in fact he worked as a tugboat captain in Houston. Otherwise he played in different bands around Austin, and he made guest appearances, he played on Friendly Advice on Bewitched from 1994, before he sadly died the year after. I have an additional thought about the song, I didn't talk about it in the car because it's too crazy, I can't let go of the thought that the song also is about Maureen Tucker.
She supported the Tea Party movement and has said that "Obama's plan is to destroy America from within." It's so hard to believe, but that's how it is. She, just like so many others, hate the idea of turning USA into Europe. I'm not sure it would work either, but you have to be stupid not to strive for being able to offer free health care to everybody.
"I don't wanna stay at your party, I don't wanna vote for your president." Ted Cruz is not going to be the next captain, that's for sure. I prefer tugboat captains from Houston, and their humble wishes. "There's a place I'd like to be. There's a place I'd be happy." It would be hard to find a more perfect song to end the show in the Austin.
We walk some stairs up to the rooftop and go into a room full of people. They are all there. I don't feel very comfortable in situations like this, but I notice what I think are Sean's parents. Ashley and Ulrika are talking to them and I really want to meet them. I know I don't have to come up with smart observations about anything.
Sean's father tells us that they had been sailing around the world for five years, and they ended up in Austin. He's a doctor. I ask if he got any good shots with the camera. They are both featured in the Luna documentary Tell Me Do You Miss Me, and this was the second time they saw Sean play, if I remember correctly. They seemed to enjoy the show as much as the rest of us.
Kelly's friend Scott is there too, we talk about new music from Sweden. "What Swedish bands do you listen to?" he asks. His eyes are deep. I can't come up with almost any. I really wish I could, but there's just so many bands. Many of them are singing in Swedish only, so they probably wouldn't work very well over seas. We are talking about Blue Note instead, it's more relaxing for me. Scott is a very nice person, one of those people that really listens to what you are saying, honestly interested.
We step out, watching the dark sky. Some people leave, some stay. It is me, Ulrika, Mike, Ashley, Kelly, Carly, Sean and a few others. Ashley tells me after a while that I remind her of Dean's face expressions. No wonder, I've been staring and listening to him for hours and hours. After this tour I've seen Luna play in Spain, England, New York and Texas 16 times in a little more than one year. It's a bit embarrassing I guess. I pretend that I don't know what's she's talking about.
I read that the USA is the only country in the western world that has no labour laws about statutory vacations. I can go to 25 or more Luna shows and kind of get paid for it
"We are definitely not rich", I reply when Ashley says that they've been discussing if we were rich since we are travelling around so much. It's just our vacation, spread out a little more during the year. I read that the USA is the only country in the western world that has no labour laws about statutory vacations. I can go to 25 or more Luna shows and kind of get paid for it. That's how I prefer to see it. It makes it more fun.
We talk about rents, she asks what we are paying in Stockholm. "Something like a thousand dollars a month" I say. She starts to step up the measures of her tiny apartment in New York that costs three times as much. I laugh at her gesture, not the cost, she's a girl that makes big and funny gestures.
Ulrika is sitting a bit further away talking to Sean, asking about future Luna concerts. Sean only hints at some things, where they might play and where they probably won't. They talk about Texas, where they both used to live. He is probably a little bit surprised hearing about that Ulrika lived for three years just a little west of Fort Worth. It's three in the morning, we always say we are not going to be the last to leave, we always fail. I can't remember if I saw the stars that night. But there's a lot of lights in the Austin night.
The next morning we had barbecue for breakfast, at the Salt Lick, half an hour drive south of Austin. I had brisket, sausages and pork ribs. Ulrika had potatoes and beans, it's not a vegetarian's paradise to say the least. She got a pickled jalapeno too. My food was very tasty but I got full after half the plate. Mike glanced up at me, was it a smile? Maybe an expression of pity. There was a vineyard next door, selling local Texas Hill Country wines. We enjoyed the green vegetation, fresh air and sunny weather. It was beautiful, I could have stayed the whole day.
We went back to Austin to see Britta play and sign records at Waterloo Records later that afternoon. First we stopped at a place and ordered boiled peanuts that tasted like red beans. Ulrika and Mike hated them. I love all kinds of beans. There are refried beans, barbecue beans, baked beans. Black beans, white beans, black eyed beans. Or if that is a pea? Green beans are delicious with just salt and butter. Steamed Japanese edamame beans. Yellow beans that me and my grandmother used to grow in our backyard when I was a kid. Mr Bean, soy beans and coffee beans. To be called a bean where we come from is something good, never bad. I should say it more often, to the right people, otherwise it probably gets awkward.
We hurried to the record store, in the burning heat. Britta played a very nice set together with her band. Sean was just in the audience this time, he was having a day off, just like we did, sort of. I snapped some photos of all the people that stood in line and that got their records signed by Britta. She signed our record too, and told me she liked my writing.
We met a nice yoga girl in the record store, she talked for half an hour with Mike about Maryland, then she drove us back to the hotel. The other day she saw Luna just like us. She told us about a bar with a nice backyard, I like backyards, but first we had some Mexican food on 6th Street, with a view of the noisy mess going on below. But we enjoyed it, and had guacamole, made directly at the table.
We got to the backyard and stayed an hour or two, a guy dressed wearing only American flag trunks covering his genitals got our attention, but mostly we talked about bootleg recordings. That's what friends are for. And we decided to go to the hotel and listen to yesterday's concert from The Mohawk.
The security guard knocked on the door. "What are you doing", he said, "it's so loud it sounds like you're having a party". "We decided to have a bed-in", I said. "But we forgot to invite anybody." I looked out the window for the last time that night, the city was illuminated in the dark by street lights, restaurants, buildings, bars, people. Music, voices and all kinds of city sounds everywhere and from all around. This is Austin, I was thinking to myself. The next day, we were going to Houston.