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Luna - Tell Me Do You Miss Me

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Artist: Luna

Album: Tell Me Do You Miss Me

Label: Rhino

Review date: Jun. 18, 2006

You can learn a lot about a band by the way they die. At one extreme, wallowing in an insignificance no longer disguised by the fickle adulation of now-departed fans, are those that underachieved or couldn't let go; at the other, exiting with dignity, walk the wise and the tragic.

The bell tolls for Luna in Tell Me Do You Miss Me, an aptly soporific documentary about a soporific band's anticlimax, somewhere in the middle of the death continuum. Watching the four musicians sleep, bicker, wax nostalgic, and go through the motions of touring reveals them as an anachronism, an exemplar of mid-’90s dream rock with temporal separation anxiety and regrets.

Luna were of course handicapped from the beginning, having to live up to cultish Galaxie 500 adoration. But they overcame it with at least two superb albums, namely Bewitched and Penthouse, each smart, shoegazing and hummable. Quickly, frontman Dean Wareham became a Velvets torchbearer for the children of gentrification and quality-of-life initiatives. Junkies and drag queens having apparently abandoned art, Wareham wrote city music for the settled set, rushing 'round in taxi cabs, waiting for the [Two Boots pizza delivery-] man.

The band declined in the late ’90s, losing top-notch personnel in drummer Stanley Demeski and bassist Justin Harwood. Lee Wall and Britta Phillips were talented, well-advised replacements, but as a group they never recovered their earlier chemistry, and beginning with 1997's Pup Tent their songs began to lack for elegance. Luna were dropped by their label, Elektra, in 1999 and struggled to find a home for the forgettable The Days of Our Nights before releasing just two proper albums in the next six years. Wareham admits that he was prepared to quit the band in 1999, if it weren't for his romantic involvement with Phillips.

Those later years are best forgotten, except in a movie that can't help dredging them up. Credit to Matthew Buzzell for avoiding a paean; still, the kvetching is a headache, and the movie rams home the ennui behind the breakup with unedited segments of squabbling and tedious footage of naps and flight delays. Says Wareham, interviewed in one of those no-spin zone "Real World" rooms, "I cannot pretend that it is fun to sit in a van for eight hours a day telling the same stupid jokes." Responds guitarist Sean Eden, "Dean is a very complex character … at times rather cruel and selfish … we certainly rub on each other's nerves sometimes." Their tone is not antagonistic, but snippy and languorous.

The film reaches furthest beneath the surface on the subject of failure. As Wareham concedes, "you're surrounded by people who are telling you that you failed because you don't have platinum records." Wall and Eden echo Wareham's feeling that Luna did not become as famous or as rich as they wanted. Perhaps this was the familiar plight of a band whose success seemed trivial because of major label expectations. Perhaps Luna had a briefer window of opportunity than they were ready to accept.

Slogging guardedly toward their last show, which took place in February 2005 at the Bowery Ballroom in New York, the quartet devises coping strategies like writing a farewell press release, which reads like an obituary, and collectively discussing their anxieties. Initially, they aren't sure how or when to break the news to their fans. Touring Japan, Wareham looks visibly saddened responding to an earnest young fan who asks about Luna's future plans. "We're gonna ride off into the sunset," he says.

At the last show, the band drinks wine up on stage. The audience parties like it's 1999, nodding and swaying.

By Ben Tausig

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