Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bella Luna

Posted on Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Release Date: 2010-06-02

Luna Fine Music Club seems to be one of those lucky establishments about which no one has a single bad thing to say. Considering the number of dumps and d-bag stomping grounds Bar Tab has visited in the last year — trying desperately to find the beauty in and purpose of each — it seems silly that, until this past Friday, I had never been to Luna. More than a year ago, this shocked my friend Suzy Jones, a stylish divorcée who’s very picky about where we hang out. “Never?” she said, “But that place is so you — you should take someone there on a date — it’s the closest thing we’ve got to a New York-style jazz club.” I guess it was the whole “date” thing that threw me off and kept me waiting for the perfect romantic excuse to check the place out.

So, on Friday, based on a friend’s recommendation, I was on the verge of visiting a new-ish bar without much of an identity, when my friend Anastacia reminded me that Brownout! was playing at Luna. Relieved, I finished inhaling my “dinner” (a family-sized bag of cashews) and raced over to collect my “date” for the evening at her new pad — “The second to the last house on the right, with the busted washing machine in front,” according to my texted directions.

As it turned out, both of us were determined to go out, but neither of us was looking forward to doing so alone. Without trying — or trying to stop — we gossiped (no, not about you) all the way up San Pedro. Luna’s parking lot was full, and a little cluster of people was waiting outside. After finding street parking, we peeked inside the front door to find that the club was at capacity. By the time we’d stepped back outside, the 10 or so people waiting had given up, making us the first people in line. We barely had time to reboot our gossip-fest and admire the retro beauty of El Montan Motor Hotel’s sign before a few people left and we were invited in. I paid our cover ($10 each), but allowed Anastacia to get our first round of drinks. The lady chose a simple but effective vodka and soda ($4) while I opted for a Corona ($4). All the seats at the bar were taken, as were the small café tables surrounding the stage. A friend of Anastacia’s approached us and invited us to join her group, saying, “It’s weird. They say they’re at capacity, but it doesn’t look like it.” The place was full, but not so packed that a trip to the restroom meant squeezing through the crowd and rubbing buttocks with strangers. Rather than joining the group, Anastacia and I lingered near the bar, noticing things about the interior. She liked the “special lighting,” I dug the red-velvet stage curtain. The other pleasant surprise was that Luna is a smoke-free environment. Given the club’s low-ish ceiling, a smoke cloud would undoubtedly spoil their air of sophistication.

Brownout!, the entertainment for the evening, was a joy to witness. For those unfamiliar with the band’s fairy-tale-like luck (and incredible talent), let me try to quickly explain it. Brownout! is Austin-based, Grammy nominated, 11-piece Latin-funk orchestra Grupo Fantasma’s side project. Several years ago, after receiving a copy of Grupo Fantasma Comes Alive, Prince booked GF to play Latin Night at his 3121 Club in Las Vegas. This snowballed into GF playing there every Thursday for two months. Eventually Prince hopped onstage with a guitar to test the waters before booking them as his backup band for a number of private appearances (including a Golden Globes party in the Presidential Suite of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Prince was joined by Mary J. Blige and will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas). In short, these guys are major. But they’re also extremely approachable and humble.

People of all ages and walks of life had come to see Brownout! — some danced in couples, some danced alone, and no one seemed preoccupied with “looking cool.” The whole scene brought to mind a multicultural wedding reception without all the irritating family members. I approached a couple that Anastacia and I decided were among the best-dressed and most photogenic in the bunch. “Do you mind if I take your picture for the Current?” I asked. They handed me their business cards so I’d have their names. Cool, vintage-inspired outfits aside, the business cards alone were a testament to the melting pot that Luna heats up every Wednesday through Friday. Paul Ingmundson, Ph.D., is the executive director for the Mind Science Foundation, and Wendy Vick is an admission and scholarship specialist for Expanding Horizons.

After the band completed their last set, I approached guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada to see if he could get the band together for a picture. “Well, I can get some of them together,” he said, scanning the room. After snapping a few pictures of the guys (minus the incredible horn section), I asked Quesada, “Any particular feelings about Luna?” “Well, we try to get down here every couple of months,” he replied. “I really like the way people can either sit and listen, or get up and dance. … You know, I really don’t have anything bad to say about this place.”

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