A rolling and rollicking dream: Luna at Gold Diggers in Los Angeles
I came to Luna in a rather circuitous way. And it wasn't via Galaxie 500.
In 1992, shortly after graduating college in Boston (and yes, I somehow missed Galaxie 500 during their salad days during my time in Beantown) I read in a fanzine about a new band that featured the drummer of one of my favorite bands, The Feelies, Stanley Demeski. I figured if he was in this new band (also touted as an indie rock super group), they must be pretty good. To my utter delight, Lunapark became one of those years' biggest musical surprises for me. I've been with them ever since.
Through name changes (Luna² anyone?), record labels (Elektra to Arena Rock Records autographed vinyl to Pledge Music campaigns) decades (the '90s, Y2K, and 2017), line-up changes and even musical milestones (College Rock, MP3s and streaming), Luna has been my constant companion. I've been there when they broke up the band and after their rebirth in 2014. I even once interviewed Dean Wareham poolside at The Hollywood Roosevelt in the mid '90's for a zine called Fizz. You could say I was slightly obsessed with this band.
My Reader's Digest version of How-I-Learned-Stop-Worrying-About-Pup Tent-and-Love-Luna is effectively how I found myself at a newly refurbished East Hollywood Bar, Gold Diggers with perhaps 150 other Luna-tics. Facebook being what it is, I was alerted to this show/listening party/video shoot a few weeks prior. Admittance was in conjunction to their crowd funding campaign for their somewhat unexpected new covers album, A Sentimental Education that should arrive shortly in my mailbox signed by the band.
At the door, there was a sign alerting all that anyone not wishing to be on camera should not enter. Fat chance. Everyone entered.
Thankfully, my friend co-owns Gold Diggers which will soon also house a boutique hotel upstairs and a state-of-the-art recording studio in the back that once housed the film studio of low-budget '50s director Ed Wood who shot Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 From Outer Space on site so I was put “on the list”. This once broke-down Hollywood palace has been remade into a natty black and gold drinkery. No measured pours here. My drink was practically served to me in a fishbowl. It's not quite a Malibu Love Nest but it's absolutely California (All the Way) and perfect for an intimate Luna gig.
With a 9pm show time, I arrived at 8:15pm and there was already a nice line down the block. In fact when the video of a track off the new album is released you'll see me in that line. The film crew shot us with a vintage Super-8 Bolex camera a few times entering the club. At the door, there was a sign alerting all who entered that a video shoot was taking place inside and we may be included in the filming. Anyone not wishing to be on camera should not enter. Fat chance. Everyone entered.
The bar was busy from the get go and the dance floor was soon packed to capacity. As this was only the third-ever live show at Gold Diggers, there was a small stage pushed up against gold curtains butting up to a wall on which the other side was Santa Monica Blvd. Some seriously hot lights were placed around the room and the stage was bare until a few minutes after 9pm when Luna took their place to (what I think) was the strains from their new album playing in the background.
It was Sean Eden who first spoke, “Those lights are really bright!” And then came the familiar strains of Chinatown. It sounded great. I was lulled into a sense of some Superfreaky Memories of Luna concerts past. But shortly thereafter, by song two, it was pretty clear we were here to sample some of the tasty bits of their forthcoming new all-covers album, A Sentimental Education. So when Dean Wareham introduced The Cure's Fire in Cairo by way of thanking the crowd for being here to help them shoot this video, it was all too obvious that I should be the one thanking them. Somewhere in West LA, Lol Tolhurst was smiling.
The covers soon continued with a fantastic version of Mink Deville's Let Me Dream If I Want To. It was much less punky, and much more dreamy as a Luna tune. Wareham (looking oddly like an older, whispy version of Mark Mothersbaugh circa “Uncontrollable Urge” and Andy Warhol with the white hot lights on his glasses) said that DeVille was pretty much the house band at CBGB's by way of an intro. It's moments like this that you really appreciate a covers record as diverse as the upcoming new album. I may know Mink DeVille, but I've certainly never owned a Yes album. Maybe I'll have to own one now because Luna covers both them as well as Fleetwood Mac on A Sentimental Education.
Britta was like a master cat burglar. She knew which house to hit, where the valuables were and got out before anyone knew she was there.
The evening continued as more of a rolling and rollicking dream over the next 80 minutes. It was a bit of a blur with one more cover of Car Wash Hair (Mercury Rev), a Britta Phillips on lead vocals song (One Fine Summer Morning) and forays into California (All the Way), Moon Palace and Anesthesia among others. Wareham and Eden's interplay was tight and spacious — each had breakout moments taking leads and solo's while the other stood back. Lee Wall's drumming was steady and punctuated many moments throughout the set with drumming so loud (and spot on) that my ears were ringing the next morning. All the while Britta Phillips' bass lines were measured and beefy, sliding in and out of each song. She was like a master cat burglar. She knew which house to hit, where the valuables were and got out before anyone knew she was there.
For their encore, someone in the video crew finally took care of the white hot bright lights set up around the room for the video turned them off and took them away. Instantly the vibe in the room changed. Suddenly there was a mood, a presence, and a feeling rather than just blinding white light/white heat. (How the band managed to perform in that light is beyond me.) Familiar strains of Slide and 23 Minutes in Brussels ended the night. That familiar pent up; ramped up, crescendo took you places far outside Gold Diggers to places elsewhere &endash; the stratosphere, a late-night drive, times gone by. And like that, it was over.
Rumor has it that Gold Diggers is considering risers and a mobile stage for special events like these and the reasons are obvious – if you aren't 6' tall, you can't see unless you are in the front row. But there was something pretty magical about being a few feet away from the band with an almost non-existent stage. Both the band and audience were on the same level, literally, and it made for a great musical experience So much to that when the band thanked the audience prior to their encore, they simply exited stage right, stood next to the bar for a moment, shrugged and walked back up on. There was no backstage (at least one they could get to). On this night, for this band, that small stage worked wonders.
25 years on from their first release, it's both comforting and exciting to see Luna perform live and record again. For me, they have always been there. From post college life, to my first apartment to the birth of my daughter whilst our birthing playlist included Hello Little One to my first house, Luna has always had a small hand in guiding me though my life. They lift me up, they make me think and they continue to grow as we all do.
Somehow that Tuesday night in East Hollywood, Luna managed to allow us to Fly Into the Mystery yet again and come out the other side blissfully alive and happy.
Editor: After hearing about the "private" show at Gold Diggers and seeing some of the great looking pictures I put a call out on Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone could write me "a few words" to pop on the site. Josh came up trumps, with so much more than I could have dreamed of. Thanks Josh.
I'm always on the lookout for folk to write for AHFoW - I don't pay anything except in gushing gratitude - but it's always nice to have the words of other fans on this site. If you have something you want to get out - it can be reviews, reminiscences, or opinion pieces - or anything you think might fit - please do get in touch.