Brighton Centre

"We're so much more rock than we used to be," [B]Lou[/B] offers, to anyone listening...

Tense, nervous headache? Then spare a thought for [a]Lou Barlow[/a]

On the day [a]NME[/a] breaks the news of his latest onstage breakdown (blood, suicide threats and a swiftly curtailed show on the continent), he can be found chewing his lip before gnarly fans in a hall, two-thirds full, bearing all the ambience of a Home Counties casualty ward.

“We’re so much more rock than we used to be,” he offers, to anyone listening.

Then he launches into ‘Weird’, pop so perfectly formed, so immaculate and pristine its shrinkwrap is still intact, followed by an (ahem) incendiary take on ‘Flame’, with rockstar shapes a-go-go. A little later, the bare-boned, melodic glide of ‘Too Pure’, Lou murmuring, [I]”I stretch until I’m sore/Then I open up for more”[/I], knocks the wind out of the entire first row. Yes, it seems Sebadoh do rock a lot more than they used to.

And why not? What is ‘The Sebadoh’ but the finest guitar record to come out of the States since ‘Nevermind’? The whole grunge template finessed into 45 minutes of noised-out pop; a record from the underground with the grace to regard ‘crossover appeal’ as something other than insulting its potential audience’s intelligence, or providing sub-par, hollowed-out entertainment.

And the credit for much of this shift in emphasis must go to Jason Loewenstein. Poor Jason, who, by dint of his shrieking, stressed-out bursts of hardcore, was often unfairly viewed as Lou‘s stooge. And yet, besides the aforementioned songs and ‘Tree’ (bruising, sinewy, still sumptuous ear-candy tonight), it’s Loewenstein‘s songs which provide the highlights on ‘The Sebadoh’.

And tonight he acquits himself admirably. Once a serrated bark, Jason’s vocals have evolved into some post-Nirvana synthesis of the perfect American rock vocal, simultaneously powdery and full-throated, warmly forceful and coldly acquiescent. Older songs like ‘Careful’ and the crushing ‘Not Too Amused’ are reclaimed from their scouring original incarnations, ‘Nick Of Time’ never once losing that thrilling, pedal-to-the-metal urgency, ‘It’s All You’ a feral knot of obsession wrapped up in irresistible, metallic R&B.

But there’s Lou, careering around the stage during a ragged ‘Rebound’; a wretched look of acrid dissatisfaction written into his face, as he screws up a lyric. He agonises too much, and it’s painful to watch. Forget romantic notions of tortured artists and ‘good copy’, we’ve had too many fucked-up heroes this decade. Stay the course, Lou, don’t burn out or fade away.

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