Friday, April 6, 2007

Gimme Indie Rock, Despite What You May Have Heard

(more pics here)

Sebadoh hath been reunited and touring...and that means Lou Barlow, Jason Lowenstein and Eric Gaffney. The band most frequently identified with the four-track phenomenon of the 90's underground music scene is back and playing shows like stupid.

I was a teen gal when the 'doh were being championed by the extant media as ramshackle brilliance, with sudsy kudos frothing from critics and musicians alike. It's quaint-seeming now, really; "Alternative Press" in particular has turned from an indie-championing mag into an emo-humping cum-rag. It never fails to amaze, those trips to Borders wherein I am greeted with the unsmiling visages of immaculately made-up musicians comprising a band with a stock name making stock music, shining forth from the cover of a magazine that once championed bands like Sonic Youth, Fugazi and Husker Du on the regular.

It was a no-brainer in that glorious time--Sebadoh ruled. While all three members contributed songs, it was Lou Barlow who stood out to most, with his easily-aped but rarely-matched skill for wry tenderness. Also, dude released 741 albums in 8 years that were recorded entirely in his bedroom. Fo' real doe. For a while, he had every weeded-out asshole with a guitar and a yearning heart believe that they too could achieve indie-god status if they added "four-track recorder" to the promising mix.

It was all going OG smooth, until 1994's Bakesale, when Gaffney left. Many a Sebadoh fan felt relief, as it was almost conventional wisdom that Eric seemed to revel in contributing tunes to the band's albums that would fuck up the so-called "sequential flow". He was put up against Lou and Jason and found lacking. So from then on, those fans could stop bitching about asshole Gaffney trashing another record and instead share deep insight as they debated the merits of Lou vs. Jason, pretty much the Lennon/Mccartney of the 90s.

And really...Bakesale is fucking great. Harmacy is great. Nothing beats III, but Christ, it took these guys until the last album to start dragging on the road, so why the hell would not Patrick and I purchase tix to see this Ashford and Simpson moment at the legendary 9:30 club in DC? Three reasons in less than five seconds! Ha! Knew you couldn't do it.

We drove down to his house in Olney after I got off work, killing time by playing with his maltese Kirby (who had a rather nasty wheeze) and worrying. Patrick always worries whenever he has to drive into DC, or any place further away than one hour. He gets silent and his stomach churns. He gets over it after I beat the piss out of him, though.

The doors were scheduled for 7:30, so we left at 5:30. The air was suggestive of May, clean and beautiful, sun still hanging in there with a non-oppressive breeze blowing consistently. (In clear, welcome contrast to Hagerstown, where the winds range from skin-peeling to hair-shearing.)

Patrick did the majority of the yakking. The peak was when he lamented the paucity of Sam Most records, particularly in comparison to Herbie Mann or Eric Dolphy.

"Did you know Eric Dolphy played on three records with John Coltrane? That's incredible."

Earlier we had wondered why Sam Most's original recordings weren't gifted with the same CD reissue madness and Wire magazine oral fest that someone like a Herbie Mann received, and it certainly couldn't have been internecine machinations--Most was a buddy of Mann's, for one. It just be's the way sometimes. Even Dolphy lived and created amid indifference if not antipathy (Miles Davis was a notorious non-fan) but you don't have to search too hard to get his music these days.

When Patrick asked for a prediction on the length of the waiting line outside the club, I predicted about 20 or so folks, roughly. It proved to be right on the money...minus the 2.

"The show is tonight, right?" Which made me laugh and recall the Le Tigre show at the self-same club where we chanced to talk up an older woman at the front of the line all crashed out on a blanket and asking if we were Steve Earle fans. It took 10 minutes until we sussed out the situation and regretfully informed her that she was at the front of the line for the wrong show.

Waiting was punctuated by Patrick moving his car several times, by choice and not force. Upon entrance, we hit up the merch table for two shirts, a sticker and the "Wade Through the Boggs" tour CD. (Does Boston still love that clown after he tried to get the Hall of Fame to show a Tampa Bay cap on his plaque?)

Up front, slight to the right. Nice one, that. Gazing at the bar.

"Do they have Dogfish Head Ale still?" Patrick wondered as Stereolab glided from the PA. "Oh yeah. They have the Raison Derriere. I mean, Raison D'etre."

"What the fuck," I laughed. "What brand is 'Raison Derriere? 'The Reason For Your Ass'?"

"Oh, shut up!" God he always looks so cute when he's having his verbal slip ups laughed out and played off of.

Bent Moustache opened, a passable trio with a distinct "veteran" look who pummelled pleasantly to a rather unimpressed gathering of slackers. The tall Liverpudlian bassist/vocalist said that a misinformed blog claimed their drummer was formerly in the Exploited, for God's sake. "Sad cunts."

Said bassist was the highlight of their show, as it was a joy to watch him expertly pluck and strum his instrument, itself Boss-ed the fuck out to the point of sounding like a rhinoceros in the throes of autoerotic aspyhxiation. Tuning was a problem, though, and midway through the set, he actually pulled out his cell phone and implored his "bass tech" to help him out. Many cheers and peals of laughter when Lou Barlow bounded up.

After 10 songs, the openers left and the crowd filled up a bit more.

When the PA started playing the "say hello to Sebadoh" tape, it was time.

Lou took bass, Eric guitar, and Jason on drums. They would alternate instruments throughout. My superficial thoughts upon first exposure

"Lou's wearing three layers up there. O'Rourke used to wear three layers on the stage all the time. What is with needing to feel all warm?"

"Nice Mission of Burma shirt Jason has on."

"Eric looks like my friend Tom would if he got incredibly stoned and beat upside the head with a bag of flour."

It was about 80 minutes or so, an "extensive" set as Lou said. Vastly satisfying, with the only real low point being "Brand New Love" lost in a maelstrom of bass. "Gimme Indie Rock" was the perfect ender (Lou started cracking up before the "smokin' pot" part) but the crowd reaction reached its peak at "Freed Pig" and the "Bakesale Suite." Especially the girls next to us in the crowd, goddamn did they get dancing when the band played "Flood". (Note to Sebadoh dudes and all Sebadoh dude fans: bitches be lovin' "Flood". Bang that shit for some certain...well, a handjob at least.)

Every member of the band had their first name bellowed by different audience dudes. Hey, that's why you get in a band in the first place, to hear other men howl your name in ecstasy.

I'm getting old...halfway through my left ear started to hurt, albeit temporarily. That shit never used to happen unless I saw someone like Black Dice, you know. But even then that was more of feeling an imaginary fissure in my chest.

Patrick and I decided that in addition to being a top-notch performance, this was the best gig banter EVER.

Lou Barlow on why he only uses four strings on his acoustic: "Hey, you only have four fingers."

Lou Barlow on DC: "You guys are having spring, not a lotta places are having spring." A bit more indecipherable blabber, until I caught him talking about allergies.

"Allegra!" offered a fan.

"Yeah. Not Sudafed-D though, that's bullshit. I've been carded trying to get that shit."

"Bent Moustache said you guys were the worst audience ever."

All great moments. But the pinnacle was climbed with some help from a short young man standing next to Patrick. This bespeckled fella was pretty much leaning over onto the stage and voiced a complaint in between songs.

"I can't hear the vocals."

Lou was unmoved. "Well, that's because of where you are. Do I need to explain this to you? see this..."--he walked over--"is the PA system. It projects sound out into the crowd. Your head is"--and here Lou crouched and made a gesture to indicate that the fan's head was indeed towards the stage itself, explaining therefore his difficulty in discerning the vocals.

"Yeah, but the monitor..."

"Right, that's facing us."

"Lou is such a good teacher", I told Patrick amid all the hooting, laughing, and requests for "Shit Soup."

"Why don't you come sit up here then?" Lou offered. "Put your head up against the monitor."

And he did. For one song, dude had the best seat in the house.

"Make him sign a waiver!" someone yelled before they started.

Lil guy wanted to stay for one more song but was shooed off most emphatically by a drumming Gaffney, who argued that the fan's position was "distracting". Eric Gaffney cannot be expected to keep a decent beat with such slender, blue-jeaned indie boy ass in front of him.

Jesus, it was so fun. Even if "Brand New Love" was drowned of its beauty and no one yelled "J Mascis is a white-haired fat-ass!"

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