Above all, Sebadoh’s show last night at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg had the feel of a homecoming. This makes sense given that multi-instrumentalist Jason Lowenstein and drummer Bob D’Amico both call Brooklyn home, but it was something beyond that. And, it was more than simple end of tour antics. The vibe that Sebadoh and both openers gave off was one of pure gratitude and joy to be playing for us.
Starting off the night was New York’s Dichroics whose brand of off-kilter 90s-influenced indie rock proved to be the perfect primer for what was to come. Though their roots were obviously held in bands like Sebadoh themselves–Jason Lowenstein did produce their album after all–their sound was a much fresher take on the sound than most revivalists put forth. Their songs weren’t mere retreads. Frontman Bryan Zimmerman’s terrifying stage presence (consisting of movements that can be described as characteristic to seizures and bad acid trips) and his reliance on samples, a trick not often employed by such 90s fetishists, provided for a more unique and entertaining set than early openers often do. It was obvious from Zimmerman’s stage garb that he’s more in line as a performer with the Kevin Barneses of the world than the Stephen Malkmuses. His inexplicable stage getup could have easily been seen as gimmicky or just flat out stupid, but it seemed somehow to fit while he was playing distorted voice samples and the lead guitarist wrestled, and I mean wrestled, a theremin on the side of the stage. They were sufficiently weird enough to shuck the stigma attached to bands with such obvious influences. In the years to come, they might be a band to watch out for.
Later in the night Sebadoh’s Lowenstein joked that Sebadoh were nothing more than a “poor man’s Archers of Loaf”, and while that was met with groans in the crowd at the time, in hindsight such a description isn’t too far off for the second opener, Mazes. Though they too seemed to share in the celebratory spirit of the night, just seeming entirely thankful to have shared a bill with such an iconic band for the last three weeks, their pop-punky indie rock just seemed a bit flat, especially in comparison to the bands that bookended it. Though their sound is spry and light on record, it just came off as a bit uninspired live. Though there were signs of life in the solid lead guitar work, for the most part the songs just didn’t come across as anything too far out of the ordinary in this new wave of 90s rock.
It’s always interesting to see how the progenitors of a scene fit in with the followers, and the contrast has never been starker than on the stage at Music Hall. Though Dichroics may be excepted from this statement given their more original take on the sound, when Sebadoh’s sound is put up against the work of their followers, there’s really no comparison. Where Mazes came across as a bit flat, Lou Barlow (at age 45 no less) and company were crushing. Though self-deprecating at times — aside from the Archers of Loaf reference, there were also discussions of how both Pavement and the projects of Robert Pollard were superior to Sebadoh’s work — they certainly proved their place in the pantheon of iconic 90s indie rock acts. Two hours of songs drawing from nearly the full scope of their records provided just about anyone present in the crowd a memorable moment.
Barlow’s songs like “Freed Pig,” “Soul and Fire,” and “Magnet’s Coil,” made their expected appearances, but it was the Lowenstein songs that were the true highlights of the night. Playing with such speed and energy that belied his age, the songs seemed as fresh as they must have in the early 90s. Even “Sister,” off 1993’s Bubble and Scrape, took on new life as Lowenstein’s crushing vocals and bass work seemed even improved from those early lo-fi years.
It just seemed like fun. As they made their way through songs like Bakesale’s “Got It,” “Rebound,” and “Careful” — which Barlow referred to as the best Sebadoh song– it was evident that this was a triumphant night. They had made their way through another year, another set of tours, and were still around to carry on the spirit of the 90s slacker rock anthems that they embody. Though they maligned playing to 70 people in Detroit and touring cross country several times in a minivan with no roadie, it was clear that they’re in this for the long haul, and after a comprehensive two-hour set with no breaks and no encore, I have to say that with a work ethic like they have, it’s no surprise that they’ve made it this far.
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