Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR
02/10/2020

Swallowed by grunge, overshadowed by the hallowed greatness of Galaxie 500 and just too unassuming to make waves in its ‘90s heyday, the music of Luna is a treat for fans looking for a band that combines the dreamy drift of Dean Wareham’s Galaxie work with more song-oriented writing. Critically-acclaimed and signed to Elektra, Luna was never broke out of being a much-loved cult band in the ‘90s but today, its music is finally being included in best of the decade conversations. It’s a perfect time for Luna to take to the road and celebrate the 25th anniversary of Penthouse (1995), an album lauded in its time by both Rolling Stone and Robert Christgau.

The band quickly sold out the 300-person Doug Fir Lounge, offering fans a chance to hear Penthouse in an intimate setting. Wareham, still looking fit and boyish at 56 despite his gray hair, led the group (featuring Britta Phillips on bass, Sean Eden on guitar and Lee Wall on drums) through a faithful rendering of the album and a handful of covers and Luna favorites.

There is a gambit whenever a band plays an album in its entirety. Sometimes it removes the exciting unpredictability of a setlist. Sometimes a band opts to play the tracks out of sequence. However, the songs of Penthouse fit together so well as a complete work, that an out-of-sequence evening would feel jarring.

The band didn’t come on until after 10pm. Wareham thanked the crowd for coming out so late on a Monday night. The band felt spot-on from the rollicking opening track “Chinatown” to the tight, cinematic “Double Feature” to the languid majesty of “Kalamazoo.” Wareham spoke a bit between songs but didn’t provide much history or commentary. Fans shouted out platitudes and one guy begged them to play “Speedbumps,” but Wareham demurred after “caucusing” with the band.

After closing the first set with a spot-on cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie and Clyde” where Wareham and Phillips traded off vocals in French, the band returned with a four-song encore. After kicking off with Roy Orbison’s “California Blue,” Wareham reached through Luna’s catalog, playing “Tracy I Love You” from Pup Tent and then finishing the night with Bewitched duo “Tiger Lily” and “Friendly Advice.”

Most of the audience appeared to be of age to appreciate Penthouse when it came out, though a few younger fans came out that evening. With such a great catalog, Luna could have played longer, and the crowd was hungry for it. But the show did exactly what was promised: feted Penthouse on its 25th birthday and showed us why it may be one of the most underrated releases of the 1990s.

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