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‘John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders’

The Dylan-indebted singer-songwriter reconvenes his regular music-and-literature confab with appearances tonight by writers including Rick Moody and former Voice staffer Colson Whitehead and rockers such as Dean & Britta and A.C. Newman of the New Pornographers. Come to drink; stay to think.

Sat., April 28, 8 p.m., 2012

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From us to you

An informal office poll reveals that the most common descriptors of our music editor, Rob Harvilla, are almost always variations of “brilliant,” “unassuming,” and “really fucking tall.” Experience his extremely wry wonderment, live and amplified, at Stories in High Fidelity, Union Hall’s evening of “musical readings.” He’ll read from his works alongside Dean Wareham (member of Galaxie 500, Luna, and Dean & Britta, as well as the author of Black Postcards) and Dan Kennedy (McSweeney’s contributor and scribe of Rock On: An Office Power Ballad and Loser Goes First). Everyone, especially Harvilla, should prove moving and wonderful and hilarious until the pure communal joy of cultural appraisal floods over the audience in a glowing wash of love and the room explodes into spontaneous song. No, seriously, this will be an awesome night. PS: Rob, I want a raise.

Tue., Aug. 4, 8 p.m., 2009

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Factory Whirl

Alt-shudder heroes Dean and Britta have created a spacey, sexy, smoke-addled score to 13 of Andy Warhol’s silent screen tests: Factory-era portraits of scenesters such as Nico, Edie Sedgwick, and Dennis Hopper. The DVD is being advertised as the “first-ever authorized DVD of Andy Warhol’s films,” but you can see D&B perform it live while the stark black-and-white head shots are projected on the more-than-ample screen at Prospect Park Bandshell. The score is gorgeous acid-indie, which shouldn’t surprise fans of their previous bands, Galaxie 500 and Luna, and owes more than a little to Warhol buddies the Velvet Underground—especially appropriate for those shots of ‘60s Lou Reed drinking a Coke and looking serious. Openers Crystal Stilts are a little more insular, but no less arty. Their Joy Division shiver-and-peel is played with the anti-zeal of a lo-fi garage project.

Sat., Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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SOMETHING SILVER

For over a decade, I was steadfastly ornery in the face of the hype about
New York avant-rock outfit Mercury Rev. Then, they abruptly won these ears
over with the dizzying masterpiece of epic pop that is “In a Funny Way,” a
delight of California sound perfected (despite the band having hailed from
Buffalo) with Jonathan Donahue’s high, lonesome vocalizing riding the song’s
cinematic sweep far beyond terra firma to galaxies untold. With the autumn release of Janus-like recordings Snowflake Midnight and Strange Attractor, the Rev has continued to expand and experiment a few light years beyond the opus that was 2005’s The Secret Migration. If you were unfortunate enough to miss their multidimensional one-night stand at the Stone in September, here’s the chance to witness them reach out to their alien Amen Choir and harness the scope of infinity. With Dean & Britta.

Sun., Dec. 7, 8 p.m., 2008

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A FINE ROMANCE

Dean & Britta are Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, known to each other as husband and wife—and to the rest of the world as half of Luna, the dreamy alt-rock outfit that called it quits in 2005. As D&B, Wareham and Phillips do a knowing yet tender version of Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra’s circa-’60s duo act, and Back Numbers, their 2007 disc, contains some of the sexiest tunes you might ever hear about reading the paper and watching TV. Opener Keren Ann released a self-titled album last year that replaced some of her natural French-café charm with the less immediate pleasures of post–Cat Power indie-soul. It’s still plenty breathy.

Fri., Feb. 29, 8 p.m., 2008

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Noise from the Front

CSS
Bezzi,” from Cansei de ser Sexy (Sup Pop, 2006)
[Music listing for Friday, June 1]

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
Weapon of Choice,” from Baby 81 (RCA, 2007)
[Music listing for Thursday, May 31]

Lavender Diamond
Here Comes One,” from Imgaine Our Love (Matador, 2007)
[Music listing for Saturday, June 2]

!!!
Must Be the Moon” from Myth Takes (Warp, 2007)
[Music listing for Wednesday, May 30]

Kings of Leon
On Call,” from Because of the Times (RCA, 2007)
[Music listing for Tuesday, June 5]

Dean & Britta
Wait for Me,” from Back Numbers (Zoe, 2007)
[Music listing for Saturday, June 2]

Woodpecker
Birdie Num Num,” from Supermodel Horse Action (Naked jain, 2005)
[Music listing for Thursday, May 31]

Animal Collective
Grass,” from Feels (Fat Cat, 2005)
[Music listing for Friday, June 1]

Wheat
Round the Corners,” from Every Day (Empyrean, 2007)
[Music listing for Sunday, June 3]

Memphis
A Little Place in the Wilderness,” from A Little Place in the Wilderness (good fences, 2006)
[Music listing for Wednesday, May 30]

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Rebirth of the Cool

Last month, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips played a few warm-up shows at the East Village bar Mo Pitkin’s, testing out tracks from Back Numbers, their second record as a duo. “It was quite nerve-wracking,” Dean confides to me, reclining in a West Village loft space. Britta shoots him a glance and agrees. I find this rather curious. Every time I’d seem them, they’d glide through their performances fearlessly and effortlessly.

In fact, last time I saw them, they were suavely encoring with Serge Gainsbourg’s “Bonnie and Clyde” onstage at the Bowery Ballroom. No, scratch that. Last time I saw them, it was onscreen at the Tribeca Film Festival, at the spring 2006 premiere of Tell Me Do You Miss Me, the documentary depicting the final days of Luna, the celebrated, breathy dream-pop quartet Dean first put together back in 1992. Britta joined in March 2000; Dean broke it up for good in 2005 after seven albums, a handful of EPs, and the usual bouts of endless touring. In the doc’s final scene, Dean and Britta hop into a cab outside, as it happens, the Bowery Ballroom, and head uptown into the snow. Onscreen there was no band drama, no verbal spats or fistfights. Instead, we saw a band that still set up their own gear, still broke it down afterward, and always kept their cool.

Since the dissolution of Luna (Dean’s second major band, after his stint with shoegaze pioneers Galaxie 500), the couple has kept busy. Britta’s done voice work for Moral Orel, an Adult Swim show on Cartoon Network. Dean’s writing a memoir, something an editor at Penguin approached him about. Together, the couple scored Noah Baumbach’s 2005 indie flick The Squid and the Whale. All this has kept them occupied, but I can’t help point out that all of these things have also kept them cool. But the only thing that makes them cool, really, is that they carry themselves in a very understated way, and always have.

So why do they seem a little more nervous, a little less cool, a little more human now?
Back Numbers is their second album as “Dean and Britta,” as a duo. “With what we’re doing, it’s sorta like starting over, from square one,” Dean says. “Figuring out how to play songs, who plays what.” He then downplays it a bit, and the doubt kicks in: “I was thinking after Luna, maybe I won’t be able to make records, or maybe no one will give a shit about this. The normal things that people get frightened about on a Sunday night.” Britta laughs. Another major change: Midway through the recording process, the longtime couple finally got hitched. I tell them that most couples like having that separation of work and home life; they reassure me that creatively, there’s never any static. “I like that feedback,” Britta says, looking at Dean. “There aren’t that many people that if they said, ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’, I would trust that.”

Back Numbers is a collection of sexy dinner-party songs that show a different side of these two. Britta admits to fooling around with MIDI and more electronic sounds. Together, they’re flirty in a way that recalls Nancy and Lee, a contemporary spin on the classic girl–guy duo. There’s a nuance now that Luna never had—that band was almost entirely Dean’s deal, but here, there’s a duality between Dean and Britta’s voices. He’s forthright and pragmatic as he always has been; she’s wispy, sultry, and optimistic. Their combined delivery is playful, romantic, and wholeheartedly un-cheesy. In other words, totally cool. “We could have kept making Luna records, but the world doesn’t need 15 of those,” Dean says. “We’re a little closer to this record, but really, you don’t know who’s going to get exposed to it. There’s a lot of luck and timing involved.”

So there’s a bit more uncertainty and vulnerability now, but not too much. These past few weeks they’ve been rehearsing for a tour while Dean keeps plugging away at his “tell-all”; they wonder out loud if people will even show up this time around. “That will be interesting to see,” Britta laments. She glances again at Dean, trying to gauge his reaction. He just shoots me a nonchalant look that seems to say, “We’ll figure it out. It’s cool.”

Dean and Britta play Hiro Ballroom on March 30, themaritimehotel.com/hiroBallroom.html