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It's hard to anticipate what will happen when you sign on to see a band that's become indie-rock legend 20 plus years after their heyday. I've seen my fair share of bombs. The Psychedelic Furs were little more than an Elton John-like novelty act. The Cult, performing the Love album, was a weird bastard child of Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley. Nothing could have prepared me for the vitality on display from Sebadoh on a quiet Wednesday night in August.

The key, I think, was their no-bones approach to the event. The band is a self-contained, self-sufficient touring unit, with members of the band opening for themselves. First, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Jason Loewenstein and drummer Bob D'Amico (The Fiery Furnaces) playing as a duo, followed by Sebadoh commander in chief Lou Barlow playing a solo acoustic ukulele set.

Finally they take the stage as the complete Sebadoh unit, playing as though they were nothing more than a bunch of college buddies messing around in the garage. You've never witnessed a college garage band quite like this though. They open the set with an unbeatable triptych of hits from the eponymous 1994 release, Bakesale - running through the brilliant combo of "License to Confuse", "Skull", and "Rebound" with little more than a passing nod to the crowd during which Lou acknowledged, "We're Sebadoh. We're from the '90s."

The first section of the set is dominated by Lou's songs. A gorgeous sampling of his heart-on-sleeve pop songsmith. But 20 minutes in Lou and Jason swap guitar and bass and Jason takes over vocals for a set of his songs. I've always known that Lou is the pop guy and Jason is the punk guy but, having never seen them live before, it was never quite as in-your-face as during this live performance. When Jason takes the lead he steers the band through a blistering set of punk rock noise, mixing Mission Of Burma post-punk with Greg Ginn-style guitar noise. Lou and Jason make the switch two more times through the course of the hour-and-a-half-plus set. Each time to similar effect - a dichotomy of edgy indie-pop and noise-laden punk.

It's this dichotomy that has always been, to me, the most appealing part of Sebadoh. Their don't-give-a-fuck slacker attitude has forever made them interesting and surprising. It is as though they are entirely at ease sabotaging their chances at real widespread popularity by playing whatever style of indie rock they feel like, whenever they want. Their willingness to let their most beautiful pop love songs crash headlong into an art-punk noise track has always been incredibly exciting, and continues to be all these years later.

As if to prove the continuing viability of the ongoing existence of Sebadoh in 2012, they pepper the set with 3 or 4 new songs slated for release later this year. The new songs sound as fresh and important as their output from the '90s.

-George Dow

Sebadoh
August 8th, 2012
Middle East, Cambridge, MA

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