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