Indie rock isn’t cool. In a community thriving on pretension, sometimes it’s hard to remember this. Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club gave an uncomfortable reminder. Classic indie rock band Sebadoh brought a crowd that served as an unfriendly reminder. In checking out the crowd, the whole show seemed an excuse to gather everyone who thought high school was a really awkward time. And our heroes? The same.
The thought didn’t stop the excitement, but what did was Sebadoh’s sluggish walk upstage. None of the members seemed excited to be there, and the first thing they said was: “[The opening band] said you guys were a bunch of assholes.” They proceeded with songs off their beloved III, but there was no energy. Eric Gaffney’s kitschy vocals, which fans have grown to love so much, were completely flat. He droned, blaming it on a cold, but how much energy can a cold actually sap?
Bandleader Lou Barlow will admit to being an “asshole,” and Tuesday night, he proved it. He pointed out one fan pressed up against the stage, and told him, “Do you see those? [Pointing towards the large speakers at the sides of the stage.] Those are P.A.’s, Public Address Systems. They’re facing the crowd, and you’re in front of them.” Then he surprised the whole crowd telling the guy, “Come up on stage. See those? [Pointing to the speakers at his feet.] Those are monitor speakers. Here, press your ear against it while I play the next song.” And the guy did, but the whole scene did nothing to impress us with Barlow’s character.
The same attitude continued. After the set, one fan asked for a copy of the set list. Drummer Jason Loewenstein replied, “We don’t have one. Why not? Because by now you’d think we would know what we’re doing.”
Sebadoh’s banter felt awkward the whole night. Gaffney begged, “You can dance if you want to.” But Sebadoh’s music is hardly music for dancing. As great as their music is, it’s still lo-fi rock, which if you don’t know is not conducive to dancing at all.
There were high points in the show though. For many of us, it was the first time we could see these godfathers of indie rock. They brought back a sense of nostalgia and even played their old tour guitars, covered in stickers and duct tape. At times, Sebadoh reminded us of the people we came to see. When asked why even his guitars had only four strings, bassist Barlow responded, “What is it with me and four strings? Six is just too damn many. You realize you only have four fingers, and they’re all short and stubby.”
Finally seeing their personality was great, but it wasn’t enough to make up for their sour attitudes. By the encore, Gaffney and Loewenstein looked contemptuous as Barlow asked them to play extra songs.
Was it too soon for a Sebadoh reunion? I don’t know, but it was definitely disappointing. When a band takes the stage, it should leave bad feelings behind, and if anything ruined the show, it was that Sebadoh had no energy and, it seemed, no goodwill.