Dropped by Elektra after completing their latest album, "The Days of Our Nights" (available as an import on Beggars Banquet), Luna struck a sardonic note about the whole affair when playing the Prospect Park Band Shell in Brooklyn Friday night. "We have a new record out in Sweden," deadpanned front man Dean Wareham toward the end of the hour-long set before launching into "Seven Steps to Satan" from the new CD. At that point, anybody who hadn't already shelled out for the import was probably thinking to themselves, "Lucky Swedes."
It's a tribute to the hypnotic sturdiness of Luna's music that, while playing live, its members command the audience's attention while barely moving. The "performance" is contained entirely within the music, particularly the interplay of Wareham's and Sean Eden's guitars. The band's influences have been ticked off so routinely in reviews -- the Velvet Underground jangle of the music -- that you almost expect to see them credited in the CD sleeves. But Luna is more than the sum of its influences; its members avoid both the wispiness of dream pop and the excess of third-generation psychedelia. The peculiarly affecting quality of Wareham's thin, reedy voice balances the slightly cool wit of his lyrics and combines with the sometimes-soaring guitars both to give depth to the melancholy feel of the music and to keep it in check: Luna has a becoming modesty even when its guitar workouts approach the scale Neil Young works on. (Evidenced in the way so many of the band's numbers downshift at the end to conclude rather quietly.)
The Prospect Park show was full of those extended guitar segments and, typically, they never seemed self-indulgent. The highlight may well have been the extraordinarily beautiful middle part of the new song "Hello, Little One," which included some trumpet fills from bassist Justin Harwood. The combination of Wareham's simple refrain ("Carry, carry on") and the expanding swell of the music felt like the embarkation of an epic journey. Luna bookended the show with a pair of covers (sadly, not their version of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's "Bonnie and Clyde," which appears as a hidden track on "Penthouse"). The opener, Donovan's "Season of the Witch," lacked the dread of the original, though it was a treat (and something of a gag, what with the similarities it revealed between Wareham's voice and the hippie troubadour's). The encore, Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child o' Mine," which closes "The Days of Our Nights," was, as on the new record, a joy: sweet and lyrical, with the fan's ardor that you hear in the best covers and a new sensibility, a purification of all showy power-ballad impulses.
Luna are not given to grand physical gestures. They stand or fall on the music. So the smallest gestures can feel writ large. Toward the end of the set, when Wareham, who had stood still, leaning into the mike all night, suddenly lifted his head back as if in brief acknowledgment of the beauty of his band's playing, there was a sense of sudden and overwhelming relief.