Sebadoh at the 400 Bar, 11/2/11
Photos by Tony Nelson
November 2, 2011
400 Bar, Minneapolis
"I'm not crying, but you're going to be in a minute." mused Sebadoh's bassist Jason Loewenstein at the beginning of Sebadoh's formidable two-hour set Wednesday night at the 400 Bar, underscoring what Sebadoh is and always has been: self-deprecating underdogs who win despite their best efforts to finish last.
There was a solid five minutes of banter from the stage before they played even one song, but it wasn't an annoyance and, in fact, added to the show's extremely loose, accident-filled structure--something that is part and parcel with any Sebadoh show. "I found out what a juggalo is today," singer/guitarist Lou Barlow added, "I'm not sure I love it, but I know I hate Faygo [soda]. I lived in Michigan--that shit's horrible."
So began what could be called a hits tour, if they had ever had any hits; as it stands they just played all the songs to which their fans knew all the lyrics.
They finally ambled into the set with "Too Pure" from 1996's gem Harmacy and followed from "On Fire," that album's haunting opening track. "Skull," from 1994's absolutely stellar Bakesale, was as oddly hopeful as it is on record while "Rebound" was ever more fantastically shambolic. Both Barlow and Loewenstein (and occasionally drummer Bob Fay) asked for Jagermeister throughout the set and it added to the show's by-a-thread nature, as at one point the shots were delivered in half-full lowball glasses. "Ok, this is the last fuck up!" Barlow half-joked as "Magnet's Coil" had ended oddly there was a tuning issue as he and Loewenstein traded instruments for "Shit Soup." By this point there had been several mishaps--technical and otherwise--not the least of which was Barlow banging his head on the low-slung speaker hanging just above the stage. They finally got some momentum going as the they hit cruise control for a few songs that included "Got It" and "Dreams," and then played "License To Confuse" twice in a row when a fan loudly yelled that it wasn't long enough. "This is a monumental day for us, a revelation has occurred" Barlow told the crowd. "Just play every song twice and everyone will love us."
As the set started it's protracted denouement Barlow and Loewenstein switched duties once again for "Dramamine," "Crystal Gypsy," and "Careful." Barlow took over vocals for what was the set's highlight, "Soul and Fire" from 1993's Bubble and Scrape. From there the set sort of slid backward across the finish line. The encore began without them leaving the stage, as several people in the crowd shouted for them to simply start the encore and they complied as "Not Too Amused" and a thunderous, stunning version of "Beauty of the Ride," then they inexplicably dragged "Give Up" into math rock/lo-fi Battles territory and finally ended the set (complete with Loewenstein saying "Seriously, this is the last song I'm playing. I don't know about you guys") with "Willing To Wait."
Photos by Tony Nelson
Two hours of lo-fi, glitch-filled rock had finally come to an end and yet they could have played for another two hours and it really wouldn't have been enough. There is something about the way Sebadoh approaches music that is addictive. The songs are pop songs at heart, but they are the most damaged, twisted pop songs you've ever heard. Maybe that's what causes the addiction--nobody has written songs in quite this manner before. They don't age, the discography is essentially an audio manifestation of Billy Pilgrim--unstuck in time and therefore able (or unable) to be placed anywhere along the timeline. There's an odd comfort in knowing these songs will be viewed through the exact same lens forever, but it's hard to place a finger on why that is comforting and doesn't cause acute malaise.
Critic's Bias: Sebadoh's Bakesale ranks along with Pixies' Surfer Rosa as my all-time favorite album.
Photos by Tony Nelson
The Crowd: Drunk and rowdy bordering on outright rude. Many people in the audience (including a guy directly behind me who was by far the loudest and most vocal, who also seemed like he was testing out fourth-rate comedy material) insisted on responding to everything the band said from stage as if they were having a conversation with them.
Overheard In The Crowd: "These 18+ shows get the older guys like me out--you know, for the ladies. Band's on at 10? Great. Band's on at midnight? Nope, going to bed."
Random Notebook Dump: For how intentionally messy these songs are, I can't believe how often Barlow tunes his guitar.
For More Photos: See our full slideshow by Tony Nelson.