Sebadoh: Giants of lo-fi

A classic Sebadoh shot.


Friday, October 28, 8 p.m. at Radio Radio

$13 advance, $15 door, 21+

There was a time when the prospect of alt-rock legends Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh being on the same bill would have been tantamount to an End of Days sign of the apocalypse. Sebadoh, after all, was formed by Lou Barlow after an acrimonious departure from Dinosaur Jr. that saw him calling Dinosaur Jr. leader J. Mascis “self-righteous and rude." But now, in the Year of our Doom, 2012, they will not only share a bill together, they will be on a Weezer Cruise together. I'm sure, if you look on the Mayan calendar, you will see a picture of Mascis and Barlow jamming out to a 20-minute version of “The Freed Pig” right before the calendar ends. Thank God, then, that Sebadoh will visit Radio Radio this Friday, before all that nasty end times stuff happens.

During a recent phone conversation with Barlow, I had to ask him about the potential of J. jamming on some Sebadoh classics.

“Hell, I never thought J. Mascis would ever agree to being on the same bill as Sebadoh," Barlow chuckles. “But he did, so, yeah, you never know what could happen.”

During Sebadoh's previous round of touring with original members Barlow, Eric Gaffney and Jason Loewenstein, they concentrated on the band's early period. During those early years, Sebadoh helped birth the lo-fi sub-genre with classic tunes like “Gimme Indie Rock,” “Soul and Fire,” and Barlow's aforementioned kiss-off to Mascis, “The Freed Pig.” The latest tour focuses on the band's most accessible music released at the height of their powers.

On the band's milestone album, Bakesale, and its equally glorious follow-up, Harmacy, Sebadoh, who had just lost Gaffney, stepped out with new purpose and a stronger self-confidence. This was no doubt partly due to Barlow's Top 40 flirtation with his side project The Folk Implosion's “Natural One” in between the two albums.

Bakesale and Harmacy are our two biggest records, so everywhere we go the reaction is just great. It really makes us feel good,” Barlow said. “We were so green when we made these records. It's amazing what a different world we lived in back then. Since then, we've gotten older and wiser, we've had kids; we've been through some great times and some really, really bad times.”

Bakesale boasted a collection of songs that helped define the best of what was going on in the mid '90s post-Nirvana America. Blustery songs like “Careful,” “Rebound” and “Drama Mine” co-existed with bright fractured pop nightmares like “Not Too Amused,” “Skull” and “Temptation Tide.”

The band upped the ante on Harmacy, mixing near-perfect masterpieces like “On Fire,” and “Ocean” with breakneck raging tracks like “Love to Fight” and “Smell a Rat” that border on hardcore.

“The great thing I think I've realized about these songs is what a smart songwriter I was [back then],” Barlow tells me. “I mean, there is no embarrassing stuff or stuff that is weird for us to play. I think somehow a small part of my younger self knew I was going to be performing these songs 20 years into the future.”

Whereas the first reunion tour was a shambolic mess (all three members switched their instruments frequently throughout the show), the current lineup, which has Loewenstein's Fiery Furnaces partner Bob D'Amico behind the drum kit, promises to be a little more structured.

“This is our fifth tour this year, and we seem to get tighter each time we go out,” Barlow said. “But, Jason and I do the parts just like we did them on the records. So we switch up just about every song. We have to play the songs the way they were written.”

Considering the relative success of Dinosaur Jr.'s two post-reunion efforts, Beyond and Farm, is it reasonable to expect a new Sebadoh record in the near future?

“After playing out with Dinosaur Jr. and having to contend with J's massive wall of loudness, it's nice to have Sebadoh to come to where I don't have to be as loud and where I can write songs that are a little more pop; so yes, we'll probably do something.” Barlow pauses as he laughs, “I mean, I'm not afraid of failure, since just about every record I've made since Harmacy has been completely ignored. If I can make a record that means something to me and that I enjoy, then it's a success.”