Licuados for the soul

Viewed in contrast with the overpriced lofts and “hipster” watering holes along the rapidly changing 16th Street corridor, Luna’s Café feels slightly out of time. It’s a vestigial remnant of a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly Midtown, before the invasion of Hummer stretch limos and other anthropological evidence that Dodgertown’s stupid culture was pulled north from Hollywood, like floating malevolent spores, in the Gulfstream wake of a certain former bodybuilder.

I love Luna’s. It’s where I go when I want to hear music that doesn’t overwhelm my aural sensibilities, where I can chat with pals like Sacramento über-fan Mike West or proprietor Art Luna; order a quesadilla and a fruity licuado for dinner; and then relax in the cramped but cozy space with the holiday lights over the counter and the cool local-artist paintings on the walls and listen to music, or poetry, and just slip into a really gentle groove.

Occasionally, there will be minor disturbances to that cafe-induced euphoria. Like Friday, when the fraternity and sorority inebriates and post-Panhellenic sots who frequent the politico bar Simon’s across the street were shouting gibberish and stumbling into traffic—something that Darwin’s process of natural selection should handle, eventually. But typically, what’s happening onstage at Luna’s is sufficient to keep the audience’s focus inside.

David Houston is my most frequent excuse for showing up there. He was there on the final Friday and Saturday of July: Friday as a backing guitarist with Kevin and Allyson Seconds’ lovely combo Ghetto Moments and Saturday playing his own music, accompanied by violist Christina Maradik and cellist Krystyna Ogella—collectively known as the Christynas—along with some other guests.

Friday night opened with Noah Nelson. I keep just missing the wry and witty Nelson, but I did catch his last couple of songs. He was followed by Deathray frontman Dana Gumbiner, who played a short and rough-hewn but fine set, solo. Ghetto Moments closed the show. Kevin and Allyson’s harmonies, to these ears, have never sounded better, kind of like the essence of John and Michelle Phillips, Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty distilled into two sweet voices, with Mark Harrod joining on drums.

Saturday began with Daycare—singer-guitarist David Garcia, guitarist Sonny Mayugba and bassist Shawn Hale acoustic, sans drummer John Taylor. The playing was on point, Garcia’s voice sounded strong, and Mayugba took some nice solos, but ultimately Daycare’s ’90s alt-rock vibe wasn’t quite congruent with the weekend’s overarching pop theme.

Houston followed, and when he (or, more precisely, ad-hoc techie Warren Bishop) passed out hand percussion before the second song, you could tell it was going to be one of those nights where much of the audience was singing along. I made it through two-thirds of the set before an agreement to play cabdriver for some Trash Film Orgy fans forced my departure, but before then, Larry Tagg replaced Hale on bass, and the music was expanding its sweet tendrils.

Some nights, you need a shot of the comfortable and familiar. Long may Luna’s withstand the onslaught of lofts.