Luna @ O2 Academy Islington, 7th October 2016
Artists touring their classic albums has become an increasingly common phenomenon in recent years – the likes of Brian Wilson, Primal Scream and U2 have all sought to recapture the magic of their most treasured records in a live setting. And it’s easy to understand why. The promise of reviving old favourites is a sure-fire money-spinner for acts with an established fan base, whereas taking new material out on the road is not without its risks. Most fans just want to hear the hits, so why not give them what they want?
Alternative rockers Luna are the latest band to offer their followers a nostalgic trip down memory lane, with Dean Wareham and co playing their third long-player, 1995’s critically-acclaimed Penthouse, from start to finish for the first time.
There is a decent-sized crowd inside London’s pokey O2 Academy Islington to see Wareham’s post-Galaxie 500 outfit rip through what Rolling Stone deemed the 99th best album of the ’90s. But before the band take the stage, Luna bassist – and Wareham’s wife – Britta Phillips performs a short set to promote her recently-released solo debut, Luck Or Magic, including a lovely reading of The Cars’ ‘Drive’.
When the rest of the band finally emerge to warm applause, Wareham and fellow guitarist Sean Eden launch right into album opener ‘Chinatown’, one of many Wareham compositions that captures his reverence for The Velvet Underground.
Rather than mixing up the setlist, the four-piece perform the album in sequence, barely pausing for breath. Standout tracks include the haunting ‘Double Feature’, anti-war anthem ‘Kalamazoo’ and fan favourite ‘23 Minutes in Brussels’, a catchy homage to Suicide’s Alan Vega that features a twin guitar attack from Wareham and Eden.
Less successful on the night is the midnight hours ballad ‘Rhythm King’ – which exposes New Zealander Wareham’s vocal limitations as he struggles to hit the higher notes – but it is virtually the only bum note in an otherwise polished set.
After powering through their magnum opus in double-quick time, there’s time for a brief encore featuring songs from the band’s back catalogue, including ‘Malibu Love Nest’ from Rendezvous, ‘Bobby Peru’ from Pup Tent, and the dream-like ‘Bewitched’ from their eponymous 1994 album.
The real highlight of the set though is ‘Friendly Advice’, its pulsating drums and thrilling guitar crescendo finally bringing the otherwise subdued London crowd into life. Fittingly, they end with their celebrated cover of Beat Happening’s ‘Indian Summer’, as on this evidence, perhaps Luna have rediscovered their mojo in the twilight of their career.