Dean Wareham has never shied away from his love of the Velvet Underground. His first band, Galaxie 500, did an epically gorgeous cover of “Here She Comes Now.” Sterling Morrison appeared on two tracks on Bewitched (1994), the second album from Wareham’s second band, Luna. Now, with the touring group he has built around himself and his wife, late-era Luna bassist Britta Phillips, Wareham has gotten the closest he’s ever been to that pinnacle vibe of icy, effortless Velvet cool. At the band’s April 7 performance at the refreshingly intimate Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles, it felt as if Wareham had fought back through time all the way to the late ’60s and he was Lou Reed and Phillips was Nico.
Nico playing a mean bass, that is. Phillips definitely helps with the early-V.U. comparisons by being a ravishing, statuesque blonde. Wearing big black boots and blue leggings, she held down the center of attention as Wareham spent much of the night fiddling with his many effects pedals in a darker corner of the stage. With a shiny gold curtain behind the band that was gilded even more by the stage lights, the concert really did glow like a Warhol Factory happening, minus the acid-rock slideshow.
Before Dean and Britta played, Jennifer O’Connor put in a short set, singing and playing electric guitar with Jon Langmead on drums. She quickly told the crowd that she was losing her voice so she wouldn’t play too long. It was a shame, because the starkly emotional tracks O’Connor played off her Matador debut, Over the Mountain, Across the Valley, and Back to the Stars, were arresting.
Dean and Britta, fleshed out to a foursome with multi-instrumentalist Lara Meyerratken and drummer Anthony LaMarca, plucked tunes from their new album, Back Numbers; their debut, 2003’s L’Avventura; the Luna catalog, and even one Galaxie 500 number, “Strange.” Meyerratken was the busiest of the four, managing electronic backing beats to “Singer Sing” and “Words You Used to Say” and others, playing various types of keyboards, and sometimes adding rhythm guitar to Wareham’s lead.
And Phillips has much better pipes than Nico did. She can do low and cooing on Hope Sandoval’s “Knives from Bavaria” just as well as she can belt out the bridges on the Lee Hazelwood-penned “You Turned My Head Around,” originally done by Nancy Sinatra. In the end, though, Wareham’s Luna tunes pleased the crowd the most. He deftly handled the solo on the sublime “Moon Palace” that Tom Verlaine did for the version on Penthouse (1995). Just as understatedly great were “Tiger Lily” and the encore-closing “Bewitched.” The music’s woozy atmospherics sent fans home to sweetly dream of yellow bananas on plain white backgrounds.