By MELLISH //
Like Coney Island, the “people’s playground,” where experiences can be found by all New Yorkers in the unrefined tradition and lows of P.T. Barnum, burlesque, vaudeville, and circus sideshows, Luna combines vice and equal parts, shaman, showman, and shyster. Saturday, November 6 at the Aladdin in Portland.
The opening notes warmed the heart the way an old friend does, after not having seen each other for over a decade immediately feeling that same comfort level that hasn’t faded, with nothing having changed the way you feel about each other, still having that same shared excitement and buzz.
Luna broke up over ten years ago, but you’d never know from their current reunion tour, which opens the door of the Aladdin Theater in Portland Nov. 6th to continue the lore. The show I saw in DC started where the band started originally – the first song off of the first album side, “Slide.” The shimmering notes of a guitar uncoiled through water had its debut in 1992, and signaled an indie rock supergroup of sorts with a softer lower case s.
The original line-up -- hand-picked to play the Velvet Underground’s last ever tour in Europe in 1993, featured Galaxie 500’s guitarist and singer Dean Wareham, The Chills’ bassist Justin Harwood, and The Feelies’ drummer Stanley Demeski.
The new group adopted New York City as its own in the early nineteen nineties, with their first album named Lunapark, after the Coney Island amusement park built in 1903, and it’s signature ride called “A Trip to the Moon” and a space ship named … Luna.
Like Coney Island, the “people’s playground,” where experiences can be found by all New Yorkers in the unrefined tradition and lows of P.T. Barnum, burlesque, vaudeville, and circus sideshows, Luna combines vice and equal parts, shaman, showman, and shyster.
Luna continued a distilled spirit of the Velvets and captured the crackle and pop in the downtown LP grooves of a place that hadn’t been sold off yet. More accessible and before anybody thought about Williamsburg as a place to go or to play shows – Luna embodied NYC laconic cool over a decade in the run up to the lost innocence of the city in 2001.
An early song in the set heavy on the “Penthouse” LP harkened back to that earlier NYC history as Wareham sang “At the Sideshow by the Seashore the girls are dressed as mermaids…An electrical storm has caught us in a trap.” The last stop on the subway line in Brooklyn … Coney Island … the gritty, cheap thrills, and sin of the Sideshow – an American tradition of sword swallowing, feats of strength, and charade – embodied in the ritualistic start of summer known as the annual Mermaid Parade.
An homage to the Coney Island Mardi Gras parades that ran from 1903 – 1954, the ramshackle Mermaid Parade began with homemade costumes in the down and out early 80s as a desperate attempt to attract people to the Brooklyn shore, when it was known more to be avoided and remained small into the mid-1990s when I lived in Brooklyn and went. The event grew in stature as the city recaptured more of its swagger and attracted hundreds of thousands with celebrated couples honored as the Queen Mermaid and King Neptune – an honor bestowed in 2010 on Laurie Anderson and Mr. Reed, as in Lou.
Luna was destined to be a cult and critical favorite unappreciated by the masses in the mainstream – at times deemed too understated, too casually sophisticated, too honest, but most of all too knowing for those not in the know.
Deep into the show they played the ennui laced song "Lost in Space" – “You know there’s something more, but you can’t give it a name, Somebody’s selling all your heroes and it seems so tame. You’ve heard it all before…”
The outpouring from the crowd showed the band had been sorely missed. While there are reasons we only have relationship memories and LPs, the reaction to the Luna reunion was as if experiencing an old girlfriend’s kiss.