February 28, 2005–The Bowery Ballroom, New York City. Luna’s lead singer and founder Dean Wareham reads from a telegram from the band’s former member Justin Harwood while choking back tears before his anxious audience. The hushed crowd, tense and hanging on Wareham’s every word, seem to sense the finality of what this night represents to the band and to them as fans. It’s Luna’s final performance, ever, marked with quiet reverence for a beloved band that managed to somehow skirt just below the surface of commercial success for its twelve year run, despite a catalog of dreamy pop songs that seemed destined for mainstream popularity.
Director Matthew Buzzell captures the essence of this paradox in his film Tell Me Do You Miss Me, with no shortage of humor and melancholic undertones throughout as the band embarks on their final tour. Six months prior to the final show in New York, the band members sit gathered around a kitchen table as they discuss how best to announce the impending break-up. It’s a brief interlude, before the band leaves for Japan on the first leg of the tour, that seems to foreshadow the seriousness of what lies ahead. When Wareham sings “I am tired of all of us” from “Speedbumps” at the Kyoto show, the exhaustion in his voice seems to address his bandmates. Buzzell is adept at showing Luna as the tour takes it toll: the trivial arguments between Wareham and lead guitarist Sean Eden, drummer Lee Wall’s reserved stoicism, and a candid interview with bassist Britta Phillips as she tells of music’s power to ease her grief.
The question of marketability and “making it” in the music industry, garnering that hit single and signing with a major label, is a theme Buzzell does not attempt to shy away from in Tell Me. Wareham on several occasions laments his band’s inability to break free from their “indie” status and to achieve financial success. His disappointment seeps into his interactions with the other band members, particularly Eden. Eden plays the yin to Wareham’s yang; more content touring and just playing music and less concerned with how much media attention Luna receives. He provides comic relief, lightening up many situations with self-deprecating anecdotes. Aptly put by Phillips, “Sean is endlessly entertaining.”
As the band traverses foreign lands, beautiful landscapes seen through the windows of a bullet train in Japan, a cab in London, and as the plane makes its descent on Barcelona, the looming “final show” seems ever closer. Juxtaposed next to this bleak reality, the band enjoys their final days together, shopping under the neon glare of Tokyo or dining on the streets of Barcelona between shows. Buzzell also manages to catch the band members, in some of the more tender moments of the film, in their everyday, non-touring life: Wareham playing with son Jack in Central Park and Eden reading at the Visions Clinic, which offers services for the blind.
Tell Me Do You Miss Me is a poignant journey with a band that has gracefully realized the limits of their success, and for once has had the dignity to call it quits before their creative gusto evaporates. Director Matthew Buzzell has achieved a remarkable feat here: to show the members of Luna as they come to terms with “life after the band” while examining just what it means to be a successful band in spite of any financial or material gains. Luna is a band whose ambition and musical talent never equated their commercial success and yet they continued to make music that mattered to many people. And to some, that is the definition of success. Following the final song at their last show in New York, the camera pans to a fan displaying a sign that reads “We’ll say a prayer and tell you that we’ll miss you. Thank you Luna.” After watching Tell Me Do You Miss Me, any fan of Luna will surely have no choice but to respond to the title’s prompting with a very emphatic “yes.”