LUNA 2/16 & 17, DOUBLE DOOR Live (Arena Rock Recording Co.), the new live record by New York indie darlings Luna, turned me off before I'd even turned on my CD player: the liner essay is a yucky diary entry by Rolling Stone editor Joe Levy about making out with his current girlfriend for the first time to Luna's 1993 EP, Slide. Now, maybe it's just that I've never kissed anyone, special or otherwise, to the competent but unremarkable sounds of Luna, but listening to what amounts to a pretty well assembled career retrospective, I think the problem is that in sound and presentation these guys aspire to an intimacy they've never quite earned. Dean Wareham's Velvet Underground worship, which dates back to his days in Galaxie 500, has paid off perversely: his band now sounds arch, remote, and flat in much the same way Lou Reed does at his worst, and, as with Reed these days, sometimes you just want Wareham to shut up and play guitar--'cause insofar as there's any real passion here, that's where it's to be found. SARAH HARMER 2/16, SCHUBAS She's got more indie cred, but like teenypopper turned generational icon Alanis Morissette before her, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer rocks no kayaks whatsoever with her sometimes Beatle-treacly, sometimes icicle-brittle, sometimes mildly jazz-frosted confessional folk-pop. As the PR that accompanies her new You Were Here (Zoe) notes, there are lots of yous all over the record--which is a step up from too many Is, to be sure--and occasionally she writes a lovely tune, like "Lodestar." But there's nothing distinctive about either her perspective or her way of presenting it. SHIPPING NEWS 2/16, Fireside Bowl; 2/17, EMPTY BOTTLE It took this Louisville outfit--a reunion of Rodan guitarists Jeff Mueller and Jason Noble originally convened to make music for This American Life--more than three years to finish its second full-length for Quarterstick, Very Soon, and in Pleasant Company. Fittingly, it's top-notch moody noodle rock--soulful and sentient music that takes its sweet time to create the illusion of immediacy. FACE TO FACE 2/17, RIVIERA At the Hideout last weekend, enjoying Mr. Rudy Day's impressively nonlinear medley of the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now?" and Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla," I found myself wondering, Why is it that we love it when live bands play human jukebox? Our hunger to hear the hits not only fuels the reunion-tour business and the farce that is the current lineup of Molly Hatchet but also ensures that even respectably consistent generators of new original material like, say, Mike Watt can get a bigger response with a well-chosen cover. Now even the kids are doing it: Standards & Practices (Vagrant), the new album from the popular pop-punk outfit Face to Face, is a collection of punk and new-wave faves, ranging from the Ramones (the infectiously inexplicable "The KKK Took My Baby Away") and the Jam ("That's Entertainment," of course) to INXS ("Don't Change") and the Psychedelic Furs ("Heaven") to Jawbreaker ("Chesterfield King") and Fugazi ("Merchandise") and all played with the same flat, driven earnestness. Half their audience is probably too young to associate any memories with these songs, and therefore gets a historic kick from them the way 30-year-olds do from T. Rex and Television tunes. But for those of us with some nostalgia under our belts already, this record delivers a decadent jolt that the band's own songs never will. POWDERFINGER 2/19, RIVIERA Huge in Australia and working on it here, this Brisbane quartet is aiming its forthcoming Odyssey Number Five (Universal) straight for the heart of modern rock radio--where, if the Stone Temple Pilots market isn't already glutted, it should have stadiums full of hands waving in time to grand climactic codas and soaring anthemic choruses. Remember, folks: living in the global village allows Americans to sample tantalizing slices of otherness, but it also means that we can have our own whitebread sold right back to us. Coldplay headlines. MOJAVE 3 2/22, SCHUBAS & reckless on broadway; 2/23, schubas Excuses for Travellers (4AD) is the third album from the quintet Mojave 3, and it sounds like they've finally hit their stride. Songwriter Neil Halstead, bassist Rachel Goswell, and drummer Ian McCutcheon made four albums together with another band, Slowdive, and the first couple Mojave 3 records suffer from what sounds like a perceived need to start from scratch. But Excuses is simply lovely, a brooding and quintessentially British take on alt-country. It's literate, literary, and slightly chilly, and Halstead's not afraid to insert a little stony grandeur between his low-key poems about broken hearts and self-doubt. On "Prayer for the Paranoid," he actually sounds sincere when he sings, "Take this guitar out of my hand, I surrender / This town don't need drunkards or singers of bad poetry / They need dancing and drugs and laughter / And we don't have them."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eva Vermandel.