Sebadoh’s return to the spotlight
after five years of inactivity has been nothing, if not comforting. Though the band’s breakup (or hiatus, or whatever you want to call it) happened less than half a decade ago, their current tour stop at San Diego’s Casbah was warm and nostalgic. The crowd of longtime Sebadoh fans, many of them thirtysomethings clad in Buffalo Tom and Throwing Muses T-shirts, gathered to see Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein perform their old songs in a celebration that was more like a family reunion than a rock show. Most fans couldn’t help themselves, ecstatically chanting the band’s name or shouting out requests from their favorite records, though none were taken.
Barlow played acoustic and electric guitar, while Loewenstein handled bass duties for the evening. However, they traveled alone, as neither Bob Fay nor more recent drummer Russ Pollard were present. Yet, in lieu of a drummer, Sebadoh used a direct line from an old boombox playing a CD demo of drum tracks Loewenstein recorded specifically for the tour. Though they could have done just as well with a sampler or drum machine, it made more sense for the lo-fi kings to use as little technology as possible. And with Loewenstein’s tracks on the boombox, it made their choice of drummers seem that much more genuine.
“I played the drums on the records,” Loewenstein joked. “This isn’t all that different.”
Barlow added, “This is our drummer Philips (pictured top left). It’s his second to last show. We don’t pay him, though. He’s our drum intern.”
The thirty-odd songs the band played during its set flowed in near-chronological order, beginning with seven songs from Sebadoh’s first record, Weed Forestin, and gradually entering into their Sub Pop-era material. When Loewenstein burst into Bakesale’s “Careful” the crowd was enraptured. Many old favorites followed—“License to Confuse,” “Skull,” “Nothing Like You” and “Soul on Fire.”
A few of the band’s songs were played without any help from “Philips,” their little silver percussion aide, one of which was Bakesale’s punk rocker “Give Up.” Barlow warned the audience that the song should never be played without drums, though the group did so anyway, surprisingly pulling off one of the highlights of the night, the absence of drums being replaced by handclaps from the crowd.
Sebadoh closed the set with “Flame,” ending with a few minutes of solos and noise jamming. Much as their reputation as indie-rock anti-heroes would suggest, Barlow and Loewenstein dispensed with rock star clichés and shouted “Fake Encore!” before walking outside for a cigarette and promptly returning for four more songs.
Alaska!’s Imaad Wasif opened the show, playing an acoustic set of songs that might be released on an upcoming solo record. But it wasn’t the first time Barlow and Wasif have been at The Casbah together, the two performed with Russ Pollard as The New Folk Implosion early last year.
(The Sebadoh photo is from an old Sub Pop press shoot. L-R: Jason Loewenstein, Lou Barlow, Bob Fay.)