"It's starting to sound like Luna up in here": Dean Wareham's reunion tour diary

Two weeks in Spain after a decade apart. "All killer, no filler!" yells a fan but the road hasn't changed that much

Published June 16, 2015 10:57PM (EDT)

 left to right, Sean Eden, Lee Wall, Britta Phillips, Dean Wareham
left to right, Sean Eden, Lee Wall, Britta Phillips, Dean Wareham

In April my band Luna played our first show in 10 years. It had ended on a snowy February night in 2005 at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom. The rebirth took place at the Echo in Los Angeles, where three of us now reside; drummer Lee Wall, bassist (and my wife) Britta Phillips and myself. The landscape has changed a bit in 10 years; when the band broke up there was neither Facebook nor Twitter, tools now seemingly essential to the trade, and though in truth I loathe them both, I wonder would our first show have sold out in 17 minutes without them. We practiced for two weeks in a basement room in Glassell Park. On the first day the task of relearning 35 songs seemed daunting, but day three Lee was able to announce, “It’s starting to sound like Luna up in here.” Since Lee has no social media presence, I had to tweet that for him.

We played our hits at the L.A. show, except that none of the songs are actual hits, except to Luna fans. “It’s all killer, no filler!” one dude yelled. This first show was in some ways like the very last show, in that there was a lot of buildup. We played the show, without any major problems; for the first show in 10 years, we played pretty damn well. Two days later we left on a two-week tour of Spain.

Wednesday April 15, LAX. Everyone in the band has new sneakers; Tretorns, Converse, Vans and Superga. There is always a buying spree before heading out on tour, of both equipment and clothing — it is a time to reinvent yourself. You can’t take the stage wearing the same shirt you wore two years ago, especially in this day and age when every show makes it to YouTube.

The woman checking our bags at the Iberia desk wants me to pay for our excess luggage, even though I’ve already pre-paid it online. I have the proof on my laptop and after 20 minutes talking to the supervisor we are good to go. They issue our boarding passes and send us across the terminal to a the place where you check oversize items and musical instruments. “Just leave it here,” says a guy in a uniform of some kind.

Our flight is not too full but it is fully one hour late leaving because, the pilot informs us, the paperwork has not been delivered. We take off at 7 p.m. and I settle in the window seat next to my wife, take a Temazepam, and get back to the book I have been reading, Paul Trynka’s biography of the very first Rolling Stone, the one whose talents outshone them all — until he became a useless wreck — Brian Jones. It’s a nice corrective to the stories Keith Richards told in his memoir.

Trynka postulates that a key early event in the Stones’ early history was Andrew Loog Oldham moving into a flat with Mick and Keith, and, ever mindful of what the Beatles were doing, insisting that they write songs as Jagger-Richards, a credit that could match Lennon-McCartney. From that moment on, Brian Jones was an outsider in the band that he had started.

The Temazepam slowly works its magic and after hours of fitful and uncomfortable sleep I find  we are landing in Madrid. Following a mad dash through Barajas airport we just make it onto our short connecting flight to Gijon, up north in Asturias. By now we guess that our luggage might not make it all the way, and we are half-right about that. Missing are the three oversize items we had left with that uniformed guy at LAX — Britta’s fiesta red Fender Precision bass, Lee’s cymbal case, and my pedalboard, which contains everything I need to sound like Dean Wareham — compressor, overdrive, wah, tremolo, phaser and delay pedals.

No matter, we have a full day before the first show and the missing items will surely arrive tomorrow. We take an afternoon stroll through a misty Gijon, a beautiful town situated on the Bay of Biscay or the Cantabrian Sea or the Atlantic Ocean, depending on whom you listen to.

I have been here before and manage to lead the band on this walk down to the harbor and over a hill to the Elogio del Horizonte, a monumental sculpture by Eduardo Chillida that sits right on the coast. We gaze out at the sea and take photographs and then go in search of a sidreria, which is where they serve the special drink associated with this town — sidra, or apple cider. The price of sidra is fixed all over town -- at two and a half Euros, but some places are famous for their own special batches. The key to the sidra experience is the way the bartender pours it; with the left hand holding a glass as low as he can reach, while the right pours from on high. He pours a couple of inches into your glass and you are required to down it instantly while it is still cold and bubbly. I feel better immediately.

Friday. No word on the whereabouts of our missing items. That is, the airline reps tell us there is  “no information.” The pedalboard is my palette; I am slightly lost without it but I borrow a few pedals from our opening band — Flowers — who will be with us for a while. It’s not my usual overdrive but it will do, and Sean graciously gives me his tremolo pedal so I can play “Chinatown” and “Bewitched.”

This is still just our second show back and we are a little upside-down on account of the jet lag, but the venue is packed and the show is not bad. Back at the hotel, I try calling the check-in desk at LAX. “Call back in one hour,” they tell me. I call back in one hour. The phone rings and rings.

Saturday. It is just a short drive east with the rocky coast of the Cantabrian Sea on our left and bright green hills on our right, and we soon arrive at the next gig, another seaside town — Santander. Seafood is the thing of course; we have lunch near the beach — boquerones and patatas bravas, and a truly great dinner of pulpo (octopus) and St Martin (some kind of fish we’ve never heard of). We are the very first customers for dinner at 8:30 p.m. but we explain that we are musicians and have a gig, and they forgive us.

* * *

Over at the venue, Sean stands on a tall chair to hang the T-shirts.

“Careful,” I said.

“Big Tree fall hard,” said Lee.

From that moment on Sean has a new nickname for the tour.

Sunday. We drive to Bilbao airport to catch a flight to Palma, Mallorca.

“No one has been going to shows because of the economy,” says our old friend, promoter Ana Espina. She lives in the old section in Palma, says she is surrounded by Swedes. And it’s Sunday night, but we get an excellent crowd. Onstage Sean and I argue about whether Luna’s first-ever Spanish gig (in 1996) was in Pradejon or in Palma. “Palma,” says Sean. “That’s the night I stayed out all night partying and came back to the hotel on a bus, holding a vodka and soda in my hand.”

Anna has picked up a nice present for me, Chopin’s "Letters From Mallorca." Chopin arrived in Palma in November 1838, and settled soon after in an abandoned monastery in the village of Valldemosa. By some accounts he spent a miserable but productive winter here with his lover George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), but these letters contain no mention of her and he seems happy enough:

November 15, 1938. I am in Palma, under the palm trees, cedars, aloes, orange trees, lemon trees and pomegranate trees. The sky is turquoise, the sea is lapis lazuli, the mountains emerald. The air? The air is exactly like the sky. My piano has not arrived yet. . . .  I dream music but I do not put it on paper, because there are no pianos here. It is a savage land in this respect.

December 1838. My illness hampers the progress of my Preludes, which you will receive God-knows-when.

January 1839. Dear Friend:

I am sending you my Preludes at last, which I have finished on your pianino, which arrived in first class condition.  I want a thousand five hundred francs for it, which buys the rights for France and England.

Monday. We fly to Madrid, take a detour over to the Iberia terminal and poke our heads in their luggage rooms. “This is very strange,” says the man at the desk. “No information.”

We have sold out two nights at the beautiful Teatro Lara. After the show we go out for drinks with friends from Switzerland, and others who have traveled from Chicago and Los Angeles and Boston, including “City Kitty Nate” — so named because he comes to shows and calls out for “City Kitty.”

“Yes,” says Sean from the stage, “you have come all the way from Boston, but we are still not going to play that song.”

We stay out till closing time 2 a.m. and others are urging me to go out to yet another bar but they don’t have to sing every night for ten straight nights, and with this being only day four I decide it is time to stop talking.

* * *

I wake up at 6 a.m., jet lagged and thirsty, and read more on Brian Jones.  Early Stones albums are credited as “produced by Andrew Loog Oldham” but Trynka postulates that it was the American arranger Jack Nitzsche (who first worked under Lee Hazlewood and later Phil Spector) who really produced their American sessions, sitting at the piano with the band, helping them craft their songs from a bare blues idea to something more, well, songlike. Nitzsche himself thought highly of Brian Jones: “he’s the real Rolling Stone, the one who’s not just happy being in a blues band.”

Britta and I find a breakfast of churros and chocolate at the touristy but worth-the-visit San Gines, go shopping at El Corte Ingles and then meet a friend for a big lunch: cocido which is a stew of blood sausage, veal, garbanzo beans, and pasta. Back to the hotel I read the paper ... news that 900 migrants have died off the Libyan coast, “fleeing poverty, persecution and war” and desperately trying to get to Europe. For those who cheered and ordered the bogus humanitarian intervention in Libya that toppled Qaddafi and plunged a once-prosperous country into utter chaos, this is one small result. Send congratulatory letters to Samantha Power, Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernard-Henri Levy.

* * *

Back at the Teatro Lara again tonight, and again we go out for drinks with our dear friend and sometime label boss Mark Kitcatt, who released all the Luna albums in Spain and put out my solo record last year too.

“Everyone loves it, no one will buy it,” he told me.

With unemployment hovering round 25 percent in this country, perhaps this is not surprising. And yet people do have money to go to shows.

On a sofa in a corner of the bar, I have my photo taken with Ulrika and Joakim, the Swedish couple who have been at three of these Spanish shows. They tell me there is a big Swedish rock star — “the Swedish Bruce Springsteen”  — who has translated and covered Luna’s “I Want Everything” (translated into Swedish that’s “Jag vill ha allting”) and ask am I making money from that. “Is it on a platinum album?” No, it was a B-side, released on his collection Nåt gammalt, nåt nytt, nåt lånat, nåt blått which translates as Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue. Well, I’m not gonna make much from that.

Of course in the old days, when a 7-inch single could sell a couple of million copies, the B-side songwriting credit was as good as an A-side. That’s why Dick Clark used to finagle himself a songwriting credit on the B-side of singles, in exchange for an appearance on "American Bandstand," a story told by Josh Alan Friedman in his excellent “Tell the Truth Until They Bleed.”

Wednesday. Our driver Ruben, a musician himself, with a beautiful voice, asks us a question at sound check in Valencia. “Did you know that in some indie clubs in Spain, they put on Luna’s version of 'Sweet Child O’ Mine' at the end of the night, as closing-time music? You should play it.”

Play it we do. Unfortunately I forget the first verse, so instead I sing the second verse, twice. This happens once in a while. I stand there on the stage playing the first chords to a song asking myself  “what is the first line?” Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the lyric pops into my head a split second before I have to sing. Tonight it did not. I hope no one puts that on YouTube.

Despite my forgetting the words, the show in Valencia feels triumphant. “Big Tree is reaching new heights,” says Lee. “Sean is playing things I’ve never heard before.”

Thursday, Barcelona. It is Saint George’s day or St Jordi, a special Catalonian holiday, the Day of Books and Roses, and the city is packed with popup florists and with popup bookstores. On this romantic day, akin to our Valentine’s Day, women receive flowers, men receive a book. This is not a Spanish holiday, mind you, it’s a Catalan holiday, a reminder that according to some people we are not really in Spain at all, but in the nation of Catalonia. Many here would like independence for Catalonia, but as it is the wealthiest part of the country, it seems highly unlikely that the government in Madrid will let it go. And yet look what is happening in Scotland.

We are back at the Bikini Club, where Luna first played in 1997 when it was brand-new. Of course it looks smaller than I remember it, and the once-shiny wooden stage is faded and worn. We have a tough time onstage but Ulrika and Joakim say this is the best show yet. After the show I sign copies of "Postales Negras" so that women can give it as a St Jordi day gift, and we participate in about 50 fan selfies. “Just one photo!” Finally we escape to the Plaza Espana with my pal Ignacio Julia and our agent Miguel; we have not eaten all day long and at midnight settle down to a meal of croquetas, boquerones, patatas, jamon and cerveza. Ignacio loved the show: “It’s less rock than before, but more roll,” he says. Well, that’s the problem with rock music, sometimes  — not enough roll.

Ignacio had interviewed me about the Luna reunion a few weeks ago, for a big Spanish paper:

“The main reason for reunions like Luna’s is money, that’s the bottom line. What can a band offer, apart from that and nostalgia, to the audience?” he asked.

“The money from the limited touring (in clubs, not arenas) that we are doing is not going to change our lives,” I told him. “Yes, we will come home from Spain with some cash, which feels better than coming home with nothing. We have decided that we are not going to play shows unless we are paid decently. That is the luxury we have now; we are not promoting a new album so we don’t have to drive all over Europe and the USA doing every single gig or radio show that offered to us because it might help sell records. We don’t need to do that shit anymore. We did it in 1994.”

“I suppose for some of our fans, it is about nostalgia, about re-living music from their twenties. But on stage, it is different. Certainly there are moments, while playing a song that I haven’t played in ten or fifteen years, where memories and emotions flood over me. And perhaps that’s what nostalgia is. Literally, nostalgia, broken into is Greek components means “the pain of going home.” At least that’s what I read in Lawrence Osborne’s "The Wet and the Dry."

“But isn’t nostalgia the opposite of that?” he asked. “The pain of not being able to go home?”

In the medical sense, he is right, nostalgia was coined to describe a psychological condition, a homesickness in mercenary soldiers. But perhaps it is both at the same time; a pain at returning, a longing for the past, sweet memories that are difficult also.

All of us wander across the plaza to the basement club Sidecar, which they pronounce see-de-car, and as we walk in the DJ is playing Luna’s “IHOP.” This triggers no particular nostalgic feelings in me but does remind me of how difficult it was to record that song.

Friday. Heading for Zaragoza, we drive across the Montserrat mountains that remind us of Arizona. Ruben says that this is one of the world’s great energy points.

“That’s what my yoga friends tell me,” he says. As we approach Zaragoza we see huge bird’s nests on top of electrical poles — each with a lone stork perched on top. “The storks used to go to Africa for the winter,” says Ruben, “but with the weather getting hotter these days, they now stay all year round.”

* * *

Still reading this book, and according to Gene Clark of the Byrds, he actually wrote their hit “8 Miles High” with Brian Jones, jamming together in a hotel room in Pittsburgh. He offered Jones a songwriting credit but Brian declined to take it. Brian is not known as a songwriter, and yet he often plays the most memorable parts of “Lady Jane,” “Play With Fire,” “Under My Thumb” and “Ruby Tuesday,” the elements that turn these songs into something special. And “Ruby Tuesday,” credited to Jagger-Richards, was most certainly written by Richards with Brian Jones, with Jagger nowhere in sight.

* * *

Walking round Zaragoza with Britta feels like we have gone backwards in time, far removed from Barcelona; there are strange old shops selling traditional clothing, a corseteria that belongs to another era. We have a coffee right by the Roman ruins; Zaragoza was founded by the Romans and the city’s named derives from the Arab Zaraqusta which in had been bastardized from Caesaraugusta. This is Ruben’s home town; he says it’s a cheap place to buy an apartment since the economy collapsed. As we drive through narrow streets we see African immigrants and Gypsies.

“How do you know they are Gypsies?” I ask Ruben.

“You know.”

“But they are blond.”

“There are blond Gypsies.”

Blond Gypsies seems like a good band name. I look it up on my iPhone; another band name already taken.

Tonight we are playing at a stylish new black box venue. Attached to the club is a restaurant where we eat pulpo, again, but this is the best one of the tour, and borraja, a green vegetable that grows around Zaragoza but apparently nowhere else. Calling it a vegetable seems a stretch; it seems more like we are eating some kind of grass or thistle.

* * *

It being Friday night, the crowd seems super-chatty, so loud that I replace a couple of quiet songs with loud ones. Despite the chatter, it feels like the band is getting better each night.

Saturday, heading for San Sebastian. Brian Jones attends Monterrey Pop with his sometime-lover Nico (reportedly they had a wild sex life and he was terrified of her). San Sebastian of course is one of the most beautiful towns in the world and I would like to take walk on the beach but today a nap is more important. Sean and Britta and I find a little tapas place for dinner, eating spicy chorizo, mussels, croquetas (again) and drinking Txakolina, the slightly effervescent wine they produce around here. We are onstage at midnight and play to another sold out-out crowd.

Back at our hotel after the show, hash is smoked through a makeshift pipe that one band member has fashioned from a Coke can. I drop, exhausted, into bed at 3 a.m.

Sunday. We are up at 8:30 a.m. for a seven-hour drive to Porto. I check my email and discover that on this eleventh day of the tour, our lost instruments have been recovered by the Spanish airline. Hallelujah. I guess.

Once Brian Jones started taking downers he became useless in the studio. Apparently he was present when Hendrix recorded “All Along the Watchtower” — but snoozing in the corner by the piano.

In Porto we play the spectacular Casa Da Musica, designed by Rem Koolhas. He has thought of everything, except, one stagehand says, a bathroom backstage. On this sleepy Sunday night we are treated to a home-cooked feijoada, gin and tonic, red wine, 70-year-old port. Perhaps this contributes to our being a little sluggish on stage tonight. We have finally run out of steam, or so it feels to us, there are many miscues and slip-ups, but probably nothing that the audience would notice.

Monday. We head for Cadiz, a long drive south through Portugal, on a two-lane highway, beautiful but slow going. Mile after mile of olive trees and walnut trees — the walnut is essential because it is an important part of the porcine diet. We try to find lunch in a small town called Tolosa, but all we see is old men sitting out in the village square, staring at us like we have beamed down in a spaceship.

We settle for a gas station.

“I ate a whole bag of potato chips,” says Sean. “I feel disgusting.”

“I feel sorry for you,” says Lee, “but not really.”

Fifty clicks from the Spanish border we are stopped by men in uniform, who quickly wave us through. We cross back into the Spain and, it seems, back to the future. Within minutes we find an open cafeteria and wolf down two different kinds of beef stew, one cooked in sherry, the other with tomato.

* * *

Brian Jones has bought a country house in Hartsfield, East Sussex, a house that once belonged to"Winnie the Pooh" creator A.A. Milne. This is the house where his life will end.

* * *

At 10 at night we arrive in Cadiz, one of the oldest cities in Europe. The Phoenicians were here and Romans were too and you can understand why, as its position on the Atlantic, close to the entrance to the Meditteranean, is ideal. We are back at the charming Hotel Paris y Francia, in the heart of the old walled city.

Tuesday. At long last we have a day off and we need it. Britta and I hit a couple of tourist attractions; the Oratory of the Santa Cueva (holy cave) where three religious paintings by Goya adorn the upstairs chapel. This place is beautiful, if slightly spooky. Not the best Goyas, I decide, perhaps because I don’t care for the theme of the last supper and the multiplying fish and loaves. More inspiring is Cadiz’s dazzling fish market itself, with stall after stall of artfully arrayed fresh squid, octopus, cuttlefish, prawns, shrimp.

Wednesday We play another seaside town, Huelva, just an hour up the coast.

Thursday finds us crossing Andalucia again, now heading east for Granada. The countryside is dry but the Sierra Nevada mountains are topped in snow, even on this last day of April.

Brian Jones is dead. Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman attend the funeral, but Mick Jagger is in Australia shooting Ned Kelly and Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg (who was Brian’s girlfriend but is now with Keith) stay away. Trynka estimates the Brian Jones’ estate collects a mere 20,000 pounds a year in royalties for his children and grandchildren. Considering the millions and millions of dollars that the Stones make — admittedly most of it from later recordings — this seems deeply rotten.

We showed up at La Planta Baja (the Ground Floor), a legendary dive and the kind of show where you have to load equipment down a flight of stairs. So, not the ground floor, it’s the basement. The room is all hard surfaces and by all rights it should sound horrible but instead it sounds pretty damn good. Britta and I are directed to a restaurant where they make us scrambled eggs with green beans, mushrooms and prawns. I am a fan of Spanish egg dishes. And people wonder why I remember the food. I don’t consider myself a foodie, but often that’s the best part of the day, and one reason I’d rather play Granada than Albany.

I love these shows where the audience is 2 feet away from you. Tonight’s crowd is younger and full of musicians like the Spanish indie band Los Planetas. “They are much bigger than you,” someone tells me.

One tipsy woman decides to heckle Sean while we are on stage; we are not sure why. “Go to sleep!” she tells him. “You used to be great but now you are a disaster.” This of course is not remotely true; Sean’s guitar playing is better than ever.

After the show these kids take all of us to another bar where we drink gin and tonic and make conversation with drunk kids and pose for photographs till I can take it no more. “Joe Strummer loved it here,” one new friend tells me. Strummer holed up in Granada in the mid-‘80s after he fired Mick Jones from the Clash — in that period where the band was falling apart. The people of Granada have repaid him by naming a small square in his honor.

Friday, May 1. Today is el Dia del Trabajado — International Workers’ Day, and as a national holiday the big stores are all shut and workers are given the day off. Fancy that.

Driving on through the rugged spaghetti-western country, we are not far from the Tavernas Desert, a popular location for shooting those films. We pass red hills dotted with caves.

“This was once a troglodyte city,” says Ruben. I think he means that cavemen once lived there; there are paleolithic sites around here.

We are heading for Murcia, the SOS festival. On the bill — the National, Morrissey — it’s a real festival in a giant parking lot. Our show is on the smaller of two stages but a couple of thousand people are there to see us. Unfortunately there is a band playing the mainstage simultaneously. I don’t think it’s a problem for the audience, but from where I stand on stage I am trying to play Luna songs, trying to roll, while simultaneously listening to this other band’s songs. After the gig I meet Gaizka Mendieta, a Spanish soccer player for the national team, now retired (and DJing the festival), who tells me Luna is one of his favorite bands, and he wants a photo. I can’t imagine this happening back home.

* * *

Morrissey has successfully decreed that no meat shall be cooked or served at the festival for the duration of his time onstage this evening. We don’t stick around to find out; we have a couple of hours driving to do tonight.

* * *

After one last gig, Saturday night headlining a very small festival in Girona, we are done, and it feels good. I go out to sign books. One guy has come from Moscow to see us.

“Dean! You fucking cunt!” he says with a smile. “Why do you never play in Russia?”

“We are available,” I tell him.

“Are you playing in London this year?”


“You cunt. I will be there!”

Sunday. I would like to report that our tour officially ends the next day with a truly great meal at a restaurant on the beach in Llafranca — a little bay on the Mediterranean Costa Brava that closely resembles paradise. Our booking agents are treating us to a late lunch of mussels, clams and paella del señorito, which translates as the rich boy’s paella — because the shellfish have been shelled already. We wash it down with cerveza and Albarino and, after the meal, a gin and tonic flavored with a cinnamon stick. And in fact all this happens, and then we drove back to Barcelona where we meet up for drinks with Ignacio.

“I have a feeling I will see the four of you together again,” he says.

Monday. Early morning Sean flies direct to New York City, but Britta and Lee and I miss a connection in Madrid and are not going anywhere. Iberia put us up in a big new apartment-hotel complex by the airport, in an industrial park surrounded by empty buildings, markers of the current state of the Spanish economy. We eat spaghetti and tomato sauce in a cafeteria with about a hundred other stranded travelers.

Tuesday. At 7 a.m. we board a bus back to Madrid Barajas airport and the driver cranks the stereo as we pull out, playing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

By Dean Wareham

Dean Wareham fronted Luna and Galaxie 500, and currently plays with Dean & Britta. His most recent release is the album "Dean Wareham." He is the author of the memoir "Black Postcards: A Rock & Roll Romance."

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