Live on New Years Eve

by David Chiu

A couple of years ago I saw the band Luna perform at the Mercury Lounge on New Year’s Eve. In what may be considered perfect symmetry, this year I saw Dean and Britta, which is former Luna band mates (and now husband-and-wife act) Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips. Guitarist Wareham and bassist Phillips performed a satisfying set of songs to a large crowd at Southpaw, including some from their albums L’Aventurra and Back Numbers.

Joined by a keyboardist-guitarist and a drummer, the couple ran through an eclectic mix of rock and retro-styled pop including the dreamy and loungey “Singers Sing” and the romantic-sounding “Words You Used To Say.” The two traded on lead vocals and sang together on the disco-funk track “Ginger Snaps.” A couple of Luna numbers were also performed, including the uptempo “Malibu Love Nest,” “Moon Palace” and “Chinatown” from the Penthouse album, and “23 Minutes in Brussels.”

One reason why people should always seize an opportunity see Wareham live onstage, aside from his deadpan singing, is because he’s an amazing guitar player. Taking a page from the sound championed by the Velvet Underground and Television, Wareham plays mesmerizing solos, most notably on “Chinatown” and “White Horses.” For her part, Phillips provided the counterpoint to Wareham’s world-weary vocals with her sultry lead and harmony singing.

Reminiscent of when Luna performed George McCrae’s “Rock Your Baby” at the Mercury Lounge New Year’s Eve show, Wareham and Phillips played two covers at their Southpaw concert. The first was Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” sung with love by Phillips. The other, which at first I thought was a Luna song, was actually New Order’s “Ceremony,” according to my friend Ben. Influenced much?

Though things have certainly changed for Wareham and Phillips in the years between the two New Year’s Eve shows, the impact of the performances were similar: I couldn’t be happier about the way both new years began.

Check out a 2003 interview with Britta Phillips.