Rock fans who crave daring, innovation and an assertive stance in their music aren't apt to take a shine to Luna.
The band's leader, Dean Wareham, is a small, slight fellow with a wan, murmuring singing voice and the personal magnetism of a loan officer. No stylistic adventurer, Wareham is content to follow in the well-trod path of the East Coast underground guitar-rock tradition that was handed down from the Velvet Underground in the '60s to Television in the '70s and the Feelies in the '80s.
Luna, which debuted in 1992, is the latest representative in that line. With each generation the bands in the V.U. tradition have grown a little less vivid, a little less dramatic and daring, and a little less distinctive--with the exception of Sonic Youth, the '80s-vintage black sheep of the family that has pursued new directions suggested by the Velvets' darker, noisier, more experimental side.
Luna is polite in its interpretation of what the elders have handed down. Still, the four-piece band's well-executed show at the Coach House on Wednesday offered plenty of satisfying guitar lyricism, quietly appealing vocal melodies, and assured, if controlled, rhythmic thrust.
Even in this tempered version, the Velvets' method has lasting appeal. (Actually, Luna has appropriated only a narrow slice of that method. The band draws on the gentler side of the Velvets; it's hard to imagine the introverted Wareham mustering the sense of theater and pure rock 'n' roll swagger that Lou Reed brought to "Heroin," "Waiting For the Man," "Sweet Jane" or "White Light/White Heat").
In his diffident way, however, Wareham has managed to make the music of his forebears serve his own songwriting vision, which is all one can ask of a rock traditionalist.
Just as he submits to the musical past with faithful restraint, the characters who move through Wareham's songs are submissive sorts who accumulate numerous psychic bruises but lack the moxie to protest, to resist, to make demands. They accept what's dealt them and hope for the best, ruefully resign themselves to seasons of pain, or subside into depression.
Sometimes a Luna protagonist will realize change is necessary, but it's left doubtful whether action will in fact ensue. In "Slash Your Tires," Wareham envisions rising up against an antagonist, but this retaliation takes place only "in my dreams."
This isn't to suggest that Wareham endorses passivity; only that introversion and inhibition make up the slice of emotional life that interests him.
On Luna's current album, "Bewitched," which really ought to be called "Becalmed," we see romantic troubles mulled over internally, but never brought to a crisis or a confrontation. The band offers a dreamy, gently wafting, album-length soak that should offer a bath of sympathy for those wanting to salve wounds at the end of a rotten day or a rotten relationship.
Though fine for a sweetly miserable wallow at home, "Bewitched" didn't hold great promise as fodder for a live performance. But by weaving in more emphatic material from its debut album, "Lunapark," as well as hard-edged cover material from Talking Heads ("Thank You For Sending Me An Angel") and Steve Wynn ("That's What You Always Say"), the band managed to mix things up and sustain interest over the course of its 70-minute set.
The slower numbers never dragged, and sometimes attained a stately, elegiac stature. Among them was a cover of the Velvet Underground's world-weary anthem, "Ride Into the Sun."
The show's rockers may not have thundered over the top, but they did move confidently, pushed along by the firm, concise drumming of Stanley Demeski, formerly of the Feelies.
The twin-guitar work of Wareham and Sean Eden was consistently interesting, with Eden favoring a thicker, Neil Young-influenced tone, and Wareham often spinning out trebly, piercing lead runs. Both used distortion liberally, not to inject currently fashionable chaos, but as a device for coloring their strictly melodic playing.
Wareham's tuneful but meek singing suited his themes, and it came through clearly thanks to an excellent sound mix. He stretched beyond his range in attempting the high notes of "Hold On," from John Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band" album.
After laying out most of the set in a predictable sequence that alternated between dreamy slow songs and springy rocking numbers, Luna built some momentum near the end. The band never broke loose, though--just not its style.
The Feelies also was a band of reserved personalities, but part of the fascination of that group's shows was watching how, over the course of a concert, the force of the music would take hold and infuse those introverts with the spirit of leaping, jerking scissors-kicking dervishes.
For Luna, a band for which a wan grin or an ironic aside was the height of demonstrativeness, liberation from inhibition is not yet here.
Red Red Meat, a Chicago band that records for Seattle's Sub Pop label, is also deeply grounded in venerable rock traditions--especially the rough-hewn roots-rock of "Exile On Main Street"-era Rolling Stones and the ragged, druggy, dejected country sound of Neil Young's classic mid-'70s album, "Tonight's The Night."
Rather than fall in place behind hall-of-fame leaders, the band strains to find ways around their imposing shadows. On its current album, "Jimmywine Majestic," Red Red Meat stretches for originality by playing songs that are noisier and more disjointed than its predecessors'. In concert, though, the band didn't press the point, choosing material that kept the distortion in check.
Fronted by a chatty, affable singer, Tim Rutili, Red Red Meat began with an open-hearted homage to its roots, dabbing only scant hints of distortion onto "You Don't Miss Your Water," a country song from the Gram Parsons catalogue.
Rutili's homespun voice became submerged when the guitars kicked in after that, but some nice Mick-and-Keith harmonies still popped out, with bassist Tim Hurley taking the part of Keith. The words were lost, but Rutili's lyrics, with their strands of opaque images, are largely impenetrable in any case.
Rhythm proved to be the band's strength, as drummer Brian Deck laid down a sparse, funky Charlie Watts thwack. Joining him was a percussionist who lent a wry touch by tapping on beer bottles and a shiny metal bedpan, among other unusual implements.
It made for a reasonably enjoyable set. But Red Red Meat's material ultimately wasn't persuasive. Using guitar dissonance, the band scuffed and dented the sound of its idols to achieve something different. But instead of whetting the appetite for more Meat, the show mainly made one want to seek out the original designs, dents not included.