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On the night of Luna's farewell concert, in a sparsely furnished, neat New York City apartment with wood floors and shelves stacked with CDs, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips get dressed without talking, going about their business in separate rooms. Outside, it's snowing heavily and there are bags of garbage on the sidewalk waiting for pick-up.
Standing before a mirror, nattily attired drummer Lee Wall buttons up a stylish, blood-orange dress shirt. Pulling a black skullcap over his bald head, he takes his leave. The tall, silent type, Wall reminds Phillips of Clint Eastwood.
In another part of town, Sean Eden, the guitarist who joined Luna just in time to help craft 1994's dream-pop classic Bewitched, fumbles with a toothbrush that slips out of his hand and falls into the toilet. Laughing at himself, he grabs another brush and finishes up, chuckling all the while, toothpaste foam dripping from his mouth.
If this was Sesame Street, one of these scenes from Tell Me Do You Miss Me, the new documentary by Matthew Buzell that follows Luna along on its last tour, just wouldn't belong. Can you guess which one? And can you guess who ends up stealing the show?
To celebrate the life and times of a band synonymous with bohemian cool and New York City sophistication, Rhino offers the DVD and a greatest hits package, The Best Of Luna - each issued tomorrow, but separately. Collecting 17 sedatives from the band's seven studio albums, The Best Of Luna is a beautiful soundtrack for a coma. Root canals would go a whole lot easier if dentists spun Luna instead of the usual elevator music that accompanies their drilling.
Picking up where Wareham's former band, Galaxy 500, left off, Luna peaked in the mid-90s with the albums Bewitched and Penthouse, and the bulk of The Best Of Luna draws from this period. Of the four tracks from Bewitched, "Tiger Lily," an anesthetizing mix of deadpan vocals and lazy guitar strum, is a delicate pop blossom that slays you with its soft, lilting chorus and the luminous title track, with its soft horns and glowing vibes, is space-age bachelor pad music for the heavily medicated. Brighter, but still doped up on ether, is the charming "California (All The Way)." From Penthouse, picked by Rolling Stone as one of the best albums of the 90s, comes the fan-favorite "23 Minutes In Brussels," as well as the delightfully sleepy jangle and slight reverb of "Chinatown," and the star-kissed wah-wah of "Moon Palace." Like Galaxy 500, Luna played under the influence of the Velvet Underground, and while they always seem to be tagged as Galaxy 500's quiet, bookish little brother, Luna's more structured approach resulted in songs that were fully realized and approachable. Even the elegant, serene drift of the feedback-tinged "I Want Everything" and "Lost In Space" coalesce wonderfully when the guitars kick in, and the amazingly fluid guitar duel between Wareham and Eden in "Anesthesia" is not to be forgotten.
With Luna's musical merit long established, Buzzell's documentary, brimming with deliberate, sumptuous cinematography, falls into a lovely trance reminiscent of Lost In Translation. Shot with all the middle-aged ennui and muted action of Sofia Coppola's breakthrough film, Tell Me Do You Miss Me waits with Luna in a Japanese airport as they gather their bags, eavesdropping on a conversation between Eden and Wall about who had what for breakfast and a Wareham phone interview about the band's just-announced split. It listens, as if it was part of Luna's inner circle, as Wareham and Eden savagely rip apart a condescending newspaper review of their show in whatever town - probably Madison, Wisconsin - they played the night before. It eavesdrops on Wareham during a phone interview about Luna's impending split. It follows Luna around Tokyo, absorbing the culture of that neon-lit, plastic playground. It sits with them on the bus. It lounges backstage with the rest of the band as Eden regales the gathering with a horrifically funny story about a rash he somehow contracted and how a former band member let the information slip while Eden was chatting up a girl he knew. If nothing else, Tell Me Do You Miss Me gets really, really up close and personal with Luna.
From the film's brutally honest interviews with Wareham and Eden a clear sense develops that the two have always had an uneasy chemistry, especially in the studio. Snippets of floating studio chatter from Eden's mouth lead viewers to believe that recording sessions were not exactly harmonious. And when Wareham talks about keeping the peace onstage by letting Eden use the "good amp," the tension between the two is palpable. Still, there is a genuine bond between the members of Luna that rises above petty bickering; when Eden talks of how he's going to miss the guitar yoga he and Wareham performed night after night, it's kind of sad to see them part ways at the end.
Moving stylishly from moody, sometimes majestic live footage of Luna standards like "Sideshow By The Seashore" and "Cindy Tastes Of Barbecue" to the monotony of day-to-day touring, Tell Me Do You Miss Me is a road movie that's an absolute grind. If Buzzell set out to destroy the glamorous myth - if it even still exists among indie-rock hopefuls - that a band's life is a never-ending series of parties, fancy hotels and buffet-stuffed riders, he's done his job. He's not the first to smash the illusion and he won't be the last. What's more important is how Buzzell seems to fall in love with these raggedy, flawed, highly intelligent characters - especially Eden. Wareham may be an icon to lovers of light, melodic space-pop and funny in his own right, but Eden, with his neurotic quirks and endless war stories, is a riot. Given seemingly unlimited access into their lives, Buzzell shows Wareham, the doting father, going to the playground with his son and just being a dad. Around the periphery, Phillips and Wall make short, surprisingly insightful comments that reveal even more layers of the quartet's disparate personalities.
Loaded with extras, from extended live performances and additional interviews, Tell Me Do You Miss Me - which debuted, appropriately, at New York's hip Tribeca Film Festival - is must-see viewing for the Luna faithful. The drawn-out road montages can be a bit of a drag if Luna doesn't flip your switch, but if you can get past the "touring-sucks" laments, it's a smart, well-sequenced film that explains why bands don't last. SEE ALSO: www.rhino.com
SEE ALSO: www.lostatsea.net/feature.phtml?fid=23365791543839553bed42
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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