Show Review: Lou Barlow at Off-Square Books, April 18th
The surreal part of having Lou Barlow play in my town, at my local bookstore, is how normal it seemed. The spacious bookstore, with its mismatched and shabby chairs, resident cat Mamacita, and handfuls of browsers wandering in to linger over books, actually proved to be the perfect setting for Barlow’s living-room charisma. Though he denies having any kind of showmanship, he has an ease and familiarity with a room full of strangers that can only be reached after nearly 25 years of performing. The show started at three-thirty in the afternoon, part of a new gig series started by bookstore employee David Swider. Because the event was early, free and open to the public (and on a game-day, no less), I worried the crowd might be restless or disrespectful, but aside from a few toddlers frolicking in front of the stage, which Barlow remarked at one point was “unbelievably cute,” the show was quiet and intimate.
He played the classics, mostly Sebadoh tunes from the Bakesale and Harmacy era, including “Skull,” “Rebound,” “Magnet’s Coil,” a valiant attempt at “License to Confuse,” which was aborted halfway through, “On Fire,” “Too Pure,” and “Willing to Wait.” He also played a couple of songs from the new Dinosaur Jr. album (as Dino was playing a show at Proud Larry’s later that night), due out in June, as well as a handful of new songs from his upcoming solo album. He did, upon request, play a lovely and hushed version of “Spoiled,” and made a lot of people intensely happy with the old favorite, “Brand New Love.” He took requests but turned several down, explaining that this was the first solo show he’d played in awhile and that many of the older songs had been written for his four-string guitar. One smartass shouted out “Zone Doubt,” which is actually a Lowenstein-penned Sebadoh song. I asked him to play the Folk Implosion song “No Need to Worry,” which he struggled to remember for a little bit, remarking to the audience, “You guys don’t mind if I do this? Just trying to figure things out?” He gave up and played another song, but came back later and played the first half of my request. “I really wish I could remember how to play this,” he said. He rounded out the show with “Love is Stronger” from The Sebadoh, and a “happy” song I wasn’t familiar with, that he claimed was the “resolution to the situation” of “Love is Stronger.”
Although he couldn’t really play any of the songs I requested, I was satisfied with the show; it reminded me why I’ve always admired this songwriter who is “so laid-back, but so uptight,” but also showed how he has evolved over the years. He’s older, wiser, more confident, and recently has started to stretch himself a little more vocally, reaching into the upper ranges. It was good to see him again, after so many years.