Luna’s Dean Wareham keeps his rendezvous in Tel Aviv

A year after the war-induced cancellation of a solo show, one of American indie rock’s unassuming heroes brings his beloved reunited band to Israel.

Luna band (photo credit: Courtesy)
Luna band
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What a difference a year makes. Last July, amid the rockets, sirens and uncertainty of Operation Protective Edge, ‘90s indie- pop demigod Dean Wareham canceled his scheduled show for the following month in Tel Aviv where he was due to perform the songbook of his seminal ‘80s band Galaxie 500.
Almost a year later to the day, Wareham is going to honor that scrapped performance but with a drastically different show on August 5 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv that will feature the regrouping of his latter-day beloved dream-pop outfit Luna.
“Did we speak last year?” asked Wareham from his Los Angeles home, boasting an accent that fuses his New Zealand origin and his adopted US home.
After explaining that our interview had been scheduled for the day after the show was scrapped, Wareham chuckled and said, “We waited as long as we could before canceling, we really wanted to come, but at some point, with the sirens going off every night and the potential for disruption, it just didn’t seem like a good idea.”
“It was kind of by mutual consent with the promoter. It wasn’t like I was afraid for my life or anything like that,” added the 51-year-old guitarist and singer.
Luna, which formed in 1991 out of the ashes of the edgier Galaxie 500, produced seven albums of sweet and intimate guitar pop betraying hints of The Byrds and the Velvet Underground before imploding in 2004, just before the release of their final album, Rendezvous.
Wareham was joined by guitarist Sean Eden from their second album, 1994’s Bewitched, drummer Lee Wall signed up in 1997 and bassist Britta Phillips (now Wareham’s wife) joined the fold in 2000.
According to Wareham, that quartet got together for an impromptu jam at a barbecue last summer in Los Angeles, and it spurred the idea of getting back together.
“There were a number of reasons – first of all, the 10-year thing. It seemed like a good time to play some shows 10 years after we stopped. At the same time, we got an offer from a Spanish promoter to play some festivals, and a record label in Brooklyn was going to release a box set of five our albums on vinyl,” said Wareham. (A five-song collection of early Luna demos has recently been posted to raise money for Terry Tolin, the A&R man who signed the band to Elektra Records 23 years ago – luna-demos-1991).
But more significantly, 10 years later and older, the band members had shed the baggage that had led to their breakup. The result? Playing together was fun again.
“We did a warm-up show in LA and then the Spain festivals in April and May and it was a lot more fun that it had been 10 years ago,” said Wareham. “Back then, we were all kind of waiting for the band to break up. We had been in a cycle for years of making an album, touring, making another album, and the longer you’re in a band, the more complicated it gets and the more it becomes a business. Resentment builds up, and there’s angst and irritability toward one another.”
“There’s none of that now. Maybe it’s because we’re older and a little wiser. But it’s also because we’re not putting out a new record and the band isn’t our main source of income. You’re a band because you want to be. And you realize that it’s actually fun to go to Barcelona and play your music to people who want to hear those songs.”
And the band has realized that there are many people out there like that. Luna gained a loyal following throughout its career even if its commercial success never matched its critical acclaim. Rolling Stone named their third album, Penthouse, one of the essential releases of the 1990s, and Wareham said he’s proud of the way most of the band’s music has endured.
“Someone asked me recently if Luna’s music sounded like the ’90s. And I thought about it and I don’t think it does. When I think of the ’90s, I think of grunge or trip hop. I think that our sound is natural, and if any - thing, it’s a reaction to the fake sounds of the ’80s,” said Wareham.
“Usually, if you’re doing your own thing, keeping it honest and not trying to follow a trend, then your music is going to age a little better and not sound dated.”
Israeli fans may have had to wait a year, but they’ll finally get the chance to see Wareham not only per - forming an overview of Luna’s best but also some choice Galaxie 500 songs. The chances of another cancellation are slim, with Wareham pledging that he was not a fan of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
“I actually haven’t been approached by anyone, it’s just been a few fans on Facebook saying this or that,” said Wareham, adding that he was aware of the recent BDS-spurred Israel show cancellation by fellow alt-rock veteran, former Sonic Youth leader Thurston Moore.
“I may sympathize with some of the aims of the BDS movement, but I don’t agree with the idea of an artistic boycott, and I told that to fans online. I don’t really believe in holding a whole population responsible for their government. I wouldn’t want to be judged as an American because of what George Bush and Dick Cheney did in Iraq.”
“It’s obviously something I thought about a lot before agreeing to the Tel Aviv show. I guess I agree with the viewpoint expressed by [American pro-Palestinian professor] Norman Finkelstein who is a fierce critic of Israel but who emphatically came out in opposition to the BDS movement – which is that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Preferring to focus on music rather than politics, Wareham steered the conversation back to the trend of ’80s and ’90s college rock favorites getting back together with varying degrees of success.
“Look at the Pixies – they must have made a fortune since they reunited. But from what I can tell, they still didn’t like each other,” he laughed. “On the other hand, I saw a clip of The Replacements’ reunion recently – they might have fallen apart again but they were great! It felt like a group of like-minded people getting back together to play songs they loved.”
“That’s the way we feel too, it’s like we never left. And we’re playing better now than we were 10 years ago.”
Last August’s modest “Dean Wareham performs Galaxie 500” gem that Israel missed out on due to the Gaza war has been replaced with the shiny diamond of Luna’s grand reunion.
What a difference a year makes.