Love on the road -- and on the page

The backstage passes and musings of Dean and Britta

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Dean Wareham mainly remembers his last San Francisco performance for a "botched guitar solo." Though the alleged incident was hardly a blip during the seductive show he and wife Britta Phillips delivered with their band, he promises on the phone from New York City, "It won't happen again."

We'll see. Dean and Britta come back to San Francisco to play Yoshi's with French postmodern chanteuse Keren Ann in the first nonjazz performance at the tony new venue on Fillmore.

Wareham met bassist-vocalist Phillips in 2000 when he was first considering leaving Luna, a band he fronted for 10 years and eight albums. She replaced longtime Luna member Justin Harwood, piquing Wareham's interest in keeping the group together — at least for a little while.

"I was thinking, 'I'm just not sure I want to do it without Justin,'" Wareham recalls.

Not only did he feel his longtime friend and bassist's departure was a sign to move on, but the music business had entered a funk that had the modestly popular but hugely respected band scrambling for a label. Wareham wasn't really a happy camper.

"Then Britta joined the band, and I have to say if I'm being honest with myself that that made it fun again," he says.

Indeed. The intriguing, siren-voiced Phillips was already something of a cult figure when she joined Luna, having gained notoriety as the singing voice of animated TV character Jem.

Wareham thinks the last two Luna records made with Phillips, Romantica and Rendezvous (Jetset; 2002, 2004), are two of the best from the group, which mainly developed its music together.

"We would be in a rehearsal studio playing electric guitars so it was a louder thing," Wareham says. "Someone would have an idea that we would just play again and again."

Luna played their final concert at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on Feb. 28, 2005.

In contrast, Dean and Britta make silkier, sexier pop, though their first recording together, 2003's L'Avventura (Jetset), started as a Wareham solo project that Phillips gradually became a part of. "Neither one of us really knew what we were doing," Wareham explains. "It was going to be all covers and then, bit by bit, sort of transformed into something else." The album encompasses an eclectic batch of songs by other writers — the Doors' "Indian Summer," Madonna's "I Deserve It," Buffy St. Marie's "Moonshot" — but the couple's intimate sound became defined by Wareham's "Night Nurse" and two outrageously seductive Phillips originals, "Out Walking" and "Your Baby," as the couple's vocals purr through floating washes of strings and vibes courtesy of producer Tony Visconti.

Wareham concedes last year's Back Numbers (Zoe) was more thought-out. "We probably had a better plan, and more of it was recorded at home," he says. "The record was built brick by brick in the studio. Then we have to learn to play the songs live, which makes it quite a challenge, actually." The couple took time to get married when producer Visconti left to work on a Morrissey album in England.

Indie-rock gossip hounds might be interested to know that Wareham and Phillips didn't become a couple immediately after they met — and they kept it on the down low even after they hooked up. Wareham promises to tell all in his new memoir, Black Postcards, which will be published by Penguin in March. "The dirt is going to be out there soon," he deadpans with a laugh.

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