Review and photography by John Bentley

I’ve been a Sebadoh fan for years and love their brand of lo-fi indie rock. It’s really pleasing to see them now getting the recognition they deserve, with a recent radio-session for Marc Riley on Radio 6 and tonight playing to a sold-out Brudenell Social Club. Sebadoh’s best known member is Lou Barlow who has had an on-off parallel career as bass player in Dinosaur Jr. Barlow and Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis had a legendary turbulent relationship, with Barlow kicked out of Dinosaur Jr after their first three landmark albums: it’s a long story, but Barlow and Mascis have been amicably reunited since Dinosaur’s 2007’s ‘Beyond’ album. Sebadoh’s second long-serving member is guitarist and songwriter Jason Loewenstein, while drummer Bob D’Amico has been recording and touring as a Sebadoh member since 2012. Loewenstein and D’Amico have also been members of Fiery Furnaces.

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

I always try to catch the support act at a gig in case they offer something exceptional and, after all, most great bands started-out playing as a support act. Tonight we are rewarded with the exceptional Dearly Beloved, a six-piece band from Toronto, Canada, led by bassist Rob Higgins and singer Niva Chow. They’ve been going for a number of years, have toured widely and have several albums to their credit and, on the basis of the show they put on tonight, it’s a wonder they are not better known. It’s a relentless, energetic, loud, full-on performance from start to finish, oozing with attitude.

Dearly Beloved, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

Lou Barlow is certainly the public face of Sebadoh and, as last time I saw the band, he is meeting the fans by the merchandise desk from the start. The only trouble is that they have sold-out of copies of the new LP / CD on this tour, so there are only posters and T-shirts to sell.

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

It’s Sebadoh’s first visit to the Brudenell (although not to Leeds) and the set is a balanced mix of ‘classics’ and songs from the new album, Act Surprised. The set progresses along the lines of Lou and Jason swapping between guitar and bass, with each singing and playing lead guitar on their own songs. Lou seems to have come with a nice collection of guitars, starting-off the set with a rather splendid twelve-string semi-acoustic D’Angelico. We kick-off with some classic Lou Barlow songs, beginning with ‘Beauty of the Ride’. Sebadoh’s mid-late period albums have been made-up of a mix of songs by Barlow and Loewenstein, with Barlow generally penning the most melodic offerings and Loewenstein contributing the more hard-core numbers. The mix works well, maybe a parallel being the balance struck by Lennon and McCartney on Beatles albums. Barlow has written some beautiful songs and I am always surprised that they have not been more covered by other artists: an example being the sublime ‘Soul and Fire’ from Sebadoh’s classic ‘Bubble and Scrape’ album (a good starting point for newcomers to the band). Barlow certainly has a rich voice that really carries emotion.

There is plenty of good humoured and affectionate band-audience banter and heckling through the evening, starting with someone at the back shouting out “three dumpy guys with no fashion sense”. As the laughter ripples through the room, the band take it all with knowing grins. Through the evening the main view of Barlow is a head-down mass of hair as he attacks his guitar, with only the occasional sight of his face – quite a challenge for the photographer.

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

We are soon into a batch of new album songs, starting with ‘Celebrate the Void’, which alternates between soft and loud and features some powerful bass playing from Jason. Lou and Jason swap round guitar and bass for sixth song ‘Phantom’, with Jason taking on singing for his first batch of songs, all from the new album, perhaps the most striking being ‘Act Surprised’ and the staccato ‘Stunned’. It’s surprising that Jason sticks to playing his new songs and neglects much of his best past work with the band. Lou returns to guitar and vocal duties with new song ‘I Will’, which sounds like one of his classic melodic numbers, featuring a typical short bridging guitar riff at intervals. The swapping between Barlow and Loewenstein songs helps to structure and pace the set and works very well. Also Bob D’Amico’s drumming is spot-on and really propels the songs as well as holding them together.

The encore is the real tour-de-force of the evening. The band have really got into their stride at this point. First there is a bit of a laugh as Lou discusses bands from Leeds, saying he has only just found out more about The Wedding Present: “We toured with them!” points out Jason. “Did we?” retorts a surprised Lou. For the encore the band first rips through four classic Lou Barlow songs from the ‘Bakesale’ and ‘Harmacy’ albums, with the stunning finale being a version of ‘Brand New Love’, Barlow’s best early song. Listening to this superb rendition (and it’s transition from the low-fi original) makes me think it would be great to have a live album release from this tour.

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

Early Sebadoh albums were characteristically lo-fi and charmingly shambolic. Their best albums are probably the mid 1990’s trio of ‘Bubble and Scrape’, ‘Bakesale’ and ‘Harmacy’, where the lo-fi element was used as a framework around classic songs. The band are now a much tighter musical unit but have managed to retain enough rough edges and spontaneity and their live performance has real warmth and draws you in. I’ve been to a few Sebadoh gigs over the years and this was most certainly the best performance.

Sebadoh setlist: Beauty of the Ride; Not a Friend; Soul and Fire; Celebrate the Void; Fool; Phantom; Raging River; Stunned; Follow the Breath; Act Surprised; I Will; Medicate; See-Saw; Sunshine; Reykjavik; My Drugs; Got It; Beat; Careful. Encore: Magnet’s Coil; License to Confuse; Rebound; Ocean; Skull; Brand New Love

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

Sebadoh, Leeds Brudenell Social Club, 3rd October 2019

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