A collateral benefit of the much-missed Luna being back on the road is the entertaining tour diaries from founder Dean Wareham.
“Much missed” might be a dramatic exaggeration for the cult-popular group Rolling Stone famously dubbed “the best band you never heard of.” Yet Luna and Wareham have made enough of an impression with their intricate, noir-ish guitar-based rock ’n’ roll that his droll commentaries of life on the road are highly regarded by both fans and fellow musicians.
Ten years after disbanding, Luna has reformed, undertaking a fall U.S. tour following a two-week northern Spain jaunt this summer. They come to Harlow’s on Thursday, Oct. 22, one night before playing San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium.
Wareham began developing Luna in 1991 after quitting the influential indie trio Galaxie 500, which included former Harvard classmates Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, who have continued as a successful duo.
Luna absorbed influences of its New York home, with a sound that seemed like a natural co-mingling evolution of Velvet Underground and Television. Wareham’s alternately moody and whimsical lyrics play off his textural guitar constructions, which have their own counterpoint in co-guitarist Sean Eden’s elegant lines. Bassist Britta Phillips (also Wareham’s wife) and drummer Lee Wall round out the band.
Recording seven studio albums between 1992 and 2004, Luna gained a significant following domestically and abroad, but there was always too much subtlety in the music and too much self-awareness in the personalities for them ever to become the next big thing. The intimate work of being in a band eventually got to them, Wareham said.
“At the end of the band, we were just sick of each other,” he said this past week, the day after the first of three celebratory shows in his former hometown (he and Phillips now live in Los Angeles). “Petty things annoyed us all. We can still get annoyed at each other, but it passes quickly, and we realize when each of us is being difficult. We’ve grown up a little.”
They also have the perspective of time and distance to appreciate just what they created with Luna. The record label Captured Tracks is putting together a box set of the first five Luna albums that will come out in a few months. A decade seemed a good benchmark to revisit the band, Wareham said, and people kept asking if they were going ever play together again.
“We got an offer out of the blue from a promoter in Spain,” he said. “He said there’s a rumor that Luna’s reforming. I said, ‘That’s not true. (But) it could be true – what did you have in mind?’ ” The offer inspired them to get together and the reunion extended to this U.S. tour.
Some of the complexity of being a band has simplified for the quartet.
“We all realize we’re here because it’s fun,” Wareham said. “It’s fun to go and play your songs to people who are super excited to hear them and see you play.”
They can construct the tour as they see fit. Since they’re not supporting a record, there’s no external pressure to play gigs they’re not interested in. “We don’t have to drive all over the place, going to every last radio station or going to countries where we’re not popular,” Wareham said.
There have been numerous other projects for Wareham and Phillips, including making two fine indie-chamber pop-duo records with David Bowie associate Tony Visconti producing.
They also were commissioned from the Andy Warhol Museum to compose songs for “13 Screen Tests” – a series of short, black and white silent films made by Warhol in the mid ’60s. The album was called “Dean & Britta – 13 Most Beautiful: Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests.” In addition, Wareham released a self-titled solo album in 2014.
He and Phillips also wrote music for the latest Noah Baumbach/Greta Gerwig film “Mistress America.” Wareham has a role in the movie, playing a disconcerted neighbor. “I’m proud to be involved in that film because it’s so funny,” he said.
Wareham had a role in Baumbach’s 2014 film “While We’re Young,” but he doesn’t think he’ll transition much more into acting. “The only person who asks me is Noah Baumbach, but I’m available for work,” he said in his signature winking deadpan style. “Being an actor is even more desperate than being a musician – not if you’re successful like Greta is – but just trying to get work.”
Wareham sounds as if he genuinely enjoys playing with Luna again even though he has performed some of the material when playing solo.
“I think we all feel like the band is actually better now than it was in 2004,” he said. “We went away from the songs for so long we forgot how to play them so we went back to the records and really studied them from scratch.”
In his Spain tour diary, Wareham refers often to a book he was reading, Paul Trynka’s biography of Brian Jones, whom Wareham refers to as “the first Rolling Stone.” Wareham calls it a “nice corrective” to some of the stories Keith Richards tells in his recent biography, though he admires Richards’ deep musicality.
“There’s a thing Keith Richards is fond of saying – it’s not just called rock music, it’s called rock ’n’ roll,” Wareham said. “I know some bands just wanna rock, but I prefer to roll.”
What: Guitar-based indie pop band plays Sacramento, with Quilt opening
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22
Where: Harlow’s Restaurant and Nightclub, 2708 J St.
Information: 916-441-4693; www.harlows.com