LUNA with WAYNE OMAHA at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (November 7). $17.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Dean Wareham, the new zealand-bred shoegazer savant beloved of the effects-pedal set after leading slowcore heroes Galaxie 500 and, after that band's acrimonious split, dream-popsters Luna to indie cult glory, has a hard time expressing his emotions.
This won't surprise anyone accustomed to the songwriter's wittily wordy non-sequitur couplets - he namechecks Tamil Tigers, Chow Yun-Fat and Stephen Sprouse in one song - and deadpan half-spoken, half-sung Coney Island Baby tenor. For all their dreamily romantic aesthetics, Luna have always been more about atmospheric allusion than emotional catharsis.
On the phone from his home base in NYC, Wareham's chatting in his typically dry, droll manner about being unable to weep. Sure, his iconic band's calling it quits after 12 years of consistently solid work, but that's not why he wants to shed a tear - the laconic songwriter's dishing about cinematic sleight of hand.
See, along with recording Rendezvous (Jetset), Luna's swan song - and arguably their best record since 95's Penthouse - Wareham spent 2003 and 2004 establishing himself as an indie film upstart, snagging decent reviews for his turn as a credit card con man in Piggie, co-written and directed by Buffalo 66 co-screenwriter Alison Bagnall.
"I met the writer-director at a New Year's Eve party," Wareham offers. "I think she'd written this role for someone like Vincent Gallo, because the character was crying and screaming all the time. The first thing I said was, 'How the hell d'you think you're gonna get me to cry? I haven't cried for two years.'
"We ended up cutting onions. It was my idea, actually. It's what they use in big movies - not onions, but they put glycerine on people's eyes. I'm not trained as an actor. I'm not a trained singer either, so I just keep things within what feels right for my personality. I harnessed my mean and grumpy side."
Wareham brings that amusing matter-of-factness to everything he talks about, from his band's breakup, to the "unpleasantness" of working in a $2,000-a-day studio when the band was signed to Elektra, to choosing engineers and producers. He dug Dave Fridmann, who mixed 2002's Romantica, but recorded Rendezvous with Brooklyn-based Bryce Goggin because he refused to camp out in Buffalo again.
Rendezvous is a perfect parting nod for Luna. Aided by Goggin, the band reverts to the "cliché" of back-to-basics live-off-the-floor recording, settling into a groove between the over-the-top swirly strings and ornate arrangements of 99's Days Of Our Nights and the easily accessible pop of Romantica. They don't break new ground, although Ontario-born guitarist Sean Eden smashes Wareham's reedy vocal monopoly by singing - quite sweetly - on a couple tracks.
"You know it's a sign a band is coming to an end," laughs Wareham. "Uh-oh, the guitar player's singing ."
Sadly, the album features no covers, which will upset those who've stocked their mix tapes with Luna's killer versions of Waiting On A Friend, Bonnie & Clyde, Sweet Child Of Mine and Season Of The Witch. But Wareham, who's a big fan of Cat Power's covers record, hints that a covers comp - including unreleased versions of an Alice Cooper track and, uh, Paula Abdul's Straight Up - may be in the cards.
Wareham says that once they wrap up their farewell tour, he and sweetheart/Luna bassist Britta Phillips (famous for voicing 80s cartoon babe Jem) will record a follow-up to 2002's lovely duets disc, L'Avventura. He's also planning to collaborate with Hong Kong actor-singer Maggie Cheung, who sang his tunes opposite Nick Nolte in the recent film fest hit Clean, and he might write a book.
And although there's a Luna documentary in the works, Wareham's still reeling from his trip down memory lane with the release of this year's Galaxie 500 DVD, Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste.
"I watched many hours of footage, remembering all kinds of things I'd completely forgotten about," he shudders, "like the horror of our early shows. You start a band and you're playing in a room, a rehearsal room, and then you get onstage and there's monitors and people. It's all 'Whoa, what's this?' I feel sorry for the people who don't have the time to get used to it. Like poor Ashlee Simpson."