It’s the classic “High Fidelity” question: “Is it in fact unfair to criticize a formerly great artist for his latter day sins; is it better to burn out or fade away?” With the release of “The Sebadoh” in 1999, Sebadoh felt hated by fans, critics, even their label; lead songwriter Lou Barlow admits, “No one liked our last record, and they stopped going to shows.” It was but a sad ending to a prolific career.
In case you are not familiar with Sebadoh’s career, it began in 1989 when Barlow was booted from legendary group Dinosaur Jr. In response, Barlow focused all his attention on side-project Sebadoh, an outlet where he could write his own songs without the stress. Eric Gaffney and Jason Loewenstein joined him to create “Sebadoh Classic,” their original, and most successful, lineup. Each member contributed his own voice: Barlow had his wry folk, Gaffney his psychedelic rock, while Loewestein his angry rock. The albums never flowed; each track was an intimate sketch of the songwriter, and Sebadoh was the better for it.
By the time Sebadoh released their third album, appropriately titled “III,” they had gained cult status among the indie community. To many, they represent the quintessential lo-fi band, recording their songs not in a studio, but on a four-track recorder. They eventually moved on to record with better production, but their success continued with it on their classic album “Bakesale.”
So what happened? Gaffney left the band after their sixth release, his replacement was fired after two, and by their final effort, they sounded like a cohesive band, and in the process, lost a lot.
Much to the surprise and pleasure of fans, the original lineup of Sebadoh is now going on tour. They’re trekking across the country with 34 dates.
According to Barlow, “We just wanted to keep the band alive and take advantage of the time we have. This is kind of a window we have to play together.”
So what kind of crowd should these rock gods expect? Barlow humbly admits, “We don’t have many [old fans] left, last time I checked.” But he says, “It would be nice to see younger kids. Old Sebadoh fans have all these opinion about what the best album and what the worst record is, when we were assholes and when we weren’t, when we were good and when we were bad.” He chuckles, “So it would be nice to have people who could come with a kind of clean slate and check us out.
They’ve begun to reissue old releases, the first of them being “III,” and on tour you can expect a tour-only release of old Sebadoh songs that have never been released. “It’s weird,” Barlow says. “It’s good: light acoustic songs recorded on the Walkman.”
“You know it’s either the beginning of something or the end, the final celebration,” he says. We can only hope for the best. But seriously, don’t miss this show. It very well might be our last time to see these early 90s pioneers.
Sebadoh will play The 9:30 Club April 3. Tickets are $15.