Photographs and Review by John Bentley

Sebadoh

Tonight is a very special night indeed, as I get to see one of my all-time favourite bands, Sebadoh, back on tour with their first new album (‘Defend Yourself’) for 14 years. And they’re only doing two gigs in the UK, so this is a quite an occasion.

Sebadoh - Lou

Seba-who, I hear you say? Well, despite being legends of lo-fi indie rock, Sebadoh are not a household name. I had to spell out the name, twice, to the venue ticket sales assistant on the phone. However, we at Gig Junkies are dedicated to good music and felt it was worth jumping any hurdle to bring you a review and photos. Due to not initially getting through to the right contact, we discovered that the guest list for Sebadoh in Manchester was full. Yours truly therefore bought a real ticket with proper money and begged Domino Records to let us have a photopass. Domino very kindly obliged.

Sebadoh - Jason

Founder of the band, Lou Barlow, was originally bass player in Dinosaur Jr, whose songwriting was dominated by J. Mascis, to Barlow’s frustration. Barlow was famously kicked out of Dinosaur and formed Sebadoh, with Jason Loewenstein and original drummer Eric Gaffney. In a rage, Lou wrote ‘The Freed Pig’ about his unhappy departure from Dinosaur Jr and the song is included in tonight’s set. Now of course, as mature guys, free of youthful aggression and competitiveness, Barlow and Mascis are pals again, and Lou’s been playing bass once more with Dinosaur Jr on their recent tour. He seems to have really enjoyed gigging with Mascis and this may have made him want to get Sebadoh back on the road once more. In addition to his Sebadoh work, Loewenstein has made a number of solo recordings and (with current Sebadoh drummer Bob D’Amico) has recorded and toured as a member of the Fiery Furnaces band.

Sebadoh - Lou

At the height of their ‘fame’ in the mid-1990s, Sebadoh produced several classic albums, notably ‘Bubble and Scrape’ and ‘Bakesale’. These had the sort of rough ethos found on the Beatles ‘White Album’, where individual group members performed their own songs, using the rest of the band as their musicians. As on the ‘White Album’, this approach really worked. Barlow’s songs tended to be the most melodic, personal and heartfelt, while Loewenstein’s had a harder punk / thrash / ‘Beefheartian’ edge. Put together on an album the resulting combination of songs was compelling. Particularly given the strength of Barlow’s songwriting, Sebadoh should have been ‘big’. However, the band sincerely stick to a DIY, lo-fi, take it or leave it approach and seem to deliberately sabotage any chances of hitting the big time.

Sebadoh - Bob

Sebadoh come to the gig tonight directly from a live session on Marc Riley’s Radio 6 programme, where they exchange jolly banter with the DJ and play three new songs, before rapidly heading off to The Academy in a taxi. On Riley’s programme we discover that Lou’s girlfriend actually prefers Jason’s songs to Lou’s own. We also discover that this is the opening night of the European tour and they haven’t actually played the new songs together before. They are at pains to emphasise the lack of practice throughout the gig, with advance apologies for things that might not go right. Clearly rehearsals are for wimps. However, this does make for a delightfully laid-back, honest, anarchic and amusing evening. The gig is lubricated throughout by amiable chat with the audience and, in any case, they are excellent musicians, playing first class songs from the heart and they can quite easily wing-it. And the crowd are on their side.

Lou - Sebadoh

I don’t recognise the first couple of numbers with Lou on guitar and vocals, but they seem to be from the new album and include ‘I Will’, its strong lead track (as I find when I buy the album later). I put my ignorance down to standing at the very front by the speakers (where it’s very loud and distorted), being distracted by taking photos and due to my lack of preliminary research on the new material. So I’m winging it like the band.

Sebadoh - Jason

The pattern of a Sebadoh gig is for Lou and Jason to swap around between bass, guitar and lead vocal duties according to who wrote the song. So after Lou’s initial songs, Jason straps on the guitar and announces a song “with Bob Dylan chords”, which turns out to be ‘Careful’ from the ‘Bakesale’ album. This starts a run of old favourites, including Lou’s tuneful ‘Rebound’ and ‘Skull’ from the same album. Unsurprisingly for Sebadoh, it turns out there is no set list for most of the show and the audience soon begin shouting out requests. The band seem to enjoy this. “Thanks for helping us”, says Lou. ‘Gimme Indie Rock’, comes a shouted request from the back. “People always ask for that”, replies Lou, but they don’t play the lo-fi anthem that defined Sebadoh’s early career. However, a good many requests do get played, like Jason’s compelling ‘Not Too Amused’ and a moving performance of ‘On Fire’, one of Lou’s most beautiful melodies.

“This one we played on Marc Riley”, says Jason, “so we know how to play it!” “Famous last words”, declares Lou, but they nevertheless do a fine rendition of “My Drugs”, from the excellent recent “Secret” EP. Later, ‘Keep the Boy Alive’ from the same EP is one of the evening’s highlights and ends with a fine big drum finish from new boy drummer, Bob.

A request comes for “Ride the Darker Wave”, a song from the first phase of Sebadoh’s career. “We’ve never played that with Bob”, declares Lou. Most bands would have passed on that song, but not Sebadoh. Turning to drummer Bob, Jason informs him, “It’s the easiest song to play ever, honest”. They briefly coach Bob in the song’s riffs and then launch straight into it.

Sebadoh - Lou signing albums

Finally curfew time approaches and the gig comes to an end. The band thank Manchester and leave the stage. No bullshit encores for Sebadoh. Out at the merchandising desk Lou comes out to chat and sign albums. So, a great fun evening with fantastic, honest, music. The band’s verdict? (via Facebook): “our first and miraculously undisasterous show in manchestah” (sic).

Polterghost

An enjoyable strong support set tonight comes from three-piece London band Polterghost, who play quality heavy garage rock in a similar vein to Sebadoh.

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