A large crowd of mostly older, former liberal arts college graduate hipster types came out to the Black Cat Saturday night to see one of indie rock’s definitive bands. Sebadoh managed to change the whole lo-fi game without any of my friends here knowing who they are. A band with a unique name like this sticks in your mind and even if it doesn’t ring a bell for any of my pals, there were enough people at the show last night (who were willing to be $20) to convince me that Sebadoh has not been forgotten. The crowd was a little older than I expected and everybody seemed to be pretty committed to keeping their cold beers on hand.
The show did not feel at all like these guys were JUST big fish of the past indie scene. I’m thanking god this wasn’t one of those tours where you walk away thinking about how great the band USED to be. Evidently this time Sebadoh is touring without roadies and generally keeping it real on the daily. During the performance endearingly scruffy Lou Barlow broke a guitar string and had to grab a plastic bag to fish out a new one and then restring it himself. While he tackled that job bassist Jason Loewenstein and drummer Bob D’Amico kept us entertained with a song of their own. Too add to all this realness, as soon as Sebadoh finished the encore Lou ran back and sold their “soft goods” (i.e. shirts). You can’t help but appreciate this hands-on approach and start being convinced these guys might be the nicest band to come through DC in awhile.
Since the history behind this band explains a lot, let me give you a quick summary. Sebadoh was started by Lou Barlow as an outlet from another 90’s band you may recognize… Dinosaur Jr. Is this ringing any bells? They started out in Massacusettes in 1986 as just a side project, but once Barlow was booted from Dinosaur Jr. the band became full time. Their 1991 release III and 1994’s Bakesale were two important moments in indie rock and helped Sebadoh endure as one of the pioneers of lo-fi. Barlow now tours solo and occasionally with his side project, The Folk Implosion. Loewenstein and D’Amico are just as busy as touring members of The Fiery Furnaces.
I found the show itself a little unfocused. This may have been because Barlow and Loewenstein switched sides of the stage and lead duties a couple times. But the crowd of tall guys, changes on stage, and the two distinctively different styles portrayed is what gave the night a more comfortable, relaxed, and homemade feel. There was a lot of stage banter, which I love! It broke up the set quite a bit and again made me convinced that you could totally sit down and have a conversation with these dudes.
Lou Barlow is often thought to be the driving force behind this band. When actually he and Jason Loewenstein wrote and perform just as the same number of songs. They started out with some songs from Harmacy with Barlow on vocals. His songs sound softer and seem sincere. When they switched for Jason to play guitar you could immediately see how his style brings out the punker side of Sebadoh. His songs were louder, even shorter, and actually got some people moving. These faster and harder songs appeal to me a bit more (at least live) and give the music a raw edge. During one of these songs there even was a teeny tiny pit for about 8 seconds. It happened so fast I was not even sure what it was. When the song suddenly ended, much earlier than the enthusiastic fans in front expected, the pit disappeared and the crowd stood still yet again.
A couple of the most prominent songs during the set were “Skull” early on, “On Fire”, and my personal favorite “License To Confuse”. You can listen to my pick below…
All night the crowd was notably unenthused. There was a group up in front had their heads bobbing the whole time but mostly people just stood still. This really surprised me since all these people paid to come to a show on a Saturday night and I assume that means that they actually like and wanted to see Sebadoh. I saw a couple of scowling guys walking back and forth around the crowd with their coats and scarves still on, looking for the perfect place. Evidently they never found anything better than where I was… because they kept coming back and eventually even left early. I’m not sure if those guys enjoyed themselves but I heard a number of people discussing the show as they left and nobody was complaining (that’s pretty good because hipsters are a notoriously picky bunch).
Sebadoh played just shy of 30 songs all in all for a set that lasted far longer than most. Obviously some songs were pretty dang short, but they played everything we wanted to hear from Bakesale and Harmacy so it kept everybody happy.
FYI- A remastered reissue of Bakesale is slated to come out on Sub Pop on June 14th.