Lou Barlow Plays Among The Vespas

How do you write down your thoughts on something that you didn’t realize you had been waiting to witness for almost twenty-five years? I’m still not sure, but I will attempt to do just that. First though, a bit of history.

At some point in the mid-90s, I was introduced to the music of Sebadoh by way of a mix tape from my friend Jenne. The song was ‘Rebound’, and while I was not really a fan of ‘lo-fi’ recordings, lead singer and songwriter Lou Barlow’s lyrics hit me like a bullet. I remember soon after hearing that first mix tape, a trip to Sam Goody at our local mall where I went with the express purpose of buying a CD EP that had acoustic versions of ‘Rebound’ and ‘Magnet’s Coil’, although I did not voice this out loud to my friends (at least I don’t think I did). Sam Goody had only one copy (in hindsight it’s remarkable they even had one copy) and one of my friends claimed it before I got there. That friend made sure that all of the acoustic tracks from that EP were included on the next mix I got from them.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, I saw Sebadoh three times in concert. Each time was very memorable (especially a 2004 show at The Khybr in Philadelphia). Each show, while memorable, never included ‘Magnet’s Coil’ in the set. I wasn’t disappointed, because those shows still rocked, but I kept hoping with each successive show that ‘maybe this time’ would be the night when I would hear a live take of ‘Magnet’s Coil.’

Fast-forward to March 2018 when Patrick posted on Facebook that he had just acquired tickets to see a solo acoustic show by Lou Barlow in Philadelphia. I had no idea Lou was touring so, after reading Patrick’s post, I saw that Lou had a Facebook page and there was a list of tour dates. Two nights after the April 9 Philly show, Lou was going to play in Richmond! I had never heard of the listed venue, but even without knowing anything else about the show, I immediately bought a ticket.

About the venue: This show was booked at ‘MOTO RICHMOND’ which is in fact a scooter store, so the backdrop for the performer was a line of Vespas along with many motorcycle/scooter accessories and lights. I can’t say enough about how great the staff were. They made sure I had a chair, although I was more than prepared to stand for the entire show. When I walked into the performance area, it wasn’t very crowded. Thankfully a few minutes before show time when I looked behind me, the room had filled to probably seventy people.

Mic? Check. Guitars? Check. Vespas???

As pre-show music blared from the PA system, Lou nonchalantly walked out dragging a suitcase of merchandise. He stowed that behind a counter at the front of the venue, then he began to set up his three guitars. By ‘set up’ I mean he took them out of their cases and leaned them against a hardback chair in a way that if someone had sneezed, they would have fallen.

‘Doesn’t he have ‘people’ to handle the merch? Doesn’t he have stands for his guitars?’ I asked myself in humorous amazement.

Just past 8:00pm Lou sat down on a stool and asked everyone else to sit down. ‘I would stand up, but you’re still not going to be able to see me unless everyone sits down.’ Since this place was a store and not built for live music, the performance area was all on one level so having everyone seated was the only way for anyone not up in the front to see the show.

After tuning his guitar, Lou surprised us by opening with ‘Cold As Ice’ by Foreigner. He followed that with a verse and a chorus of Bryan Adams’ ‘Run To You’ before he messed up, stopped abruptly and announced, ‘Okay, now I’ll play some of my songs.’

Then he started playing the intro to ‘Magnet’s Coil,’ an intro to a song I have listened to thousands of times over the last twenty-plus years.

From that point forward, the rest of the evening is a wonderful, nostalgic blur. I remember snippets of moments, and I remember telling myself ‘Don’t lose it, keep it together!’ As each song washed over me, I was filled with memories of friends that I haven’t seen in too long, hours spent talking and playing cards while these songs played in the background. Memories came fast and sharp: The night I quoted a verse from ‘Rebound’ at a Waffle House during a discussion about dating; the morning where a friend left the lyrics to ‘Magnet’s Coil’ written in ink on four sheets of folded paper in my mailbox, and the time a friend gifted me three mix CDs of Sebadoh music. As I remembered all of this and tried to take in the actual show, it all became the aforementioned wonderful, nostalgic blur as the forty-something year old me melted away to reveal the twenty-something year old me. And I was okay with that.

Here is a partial setlist from the website setlist.fm with a few additions based on my blurry memory:

April 11; MOTO Richmond

Cold As Ice

Run To You

Magnet’s Coil

Imagination Blind

Rebound

Not a Friend

Repeat

Love Intervene

Skull

Too Pure

Wave

Natural One

Ballad of Daykitty

Back to your Heart

Vampire

Brand New Love

This show had everything I could’ve asked for: An attentive audience (minus the intoxicated guy who kept asking Lou to play songs he didn’t write), Lou telling many stories about songs (especially a detailed explanation on how ‘Ballad of Daykitty’ was written) and, as the partial setlist shows, the songs that I wanted to hear, that I didn’t realize I had been waiting to hear, the songs that I needed to hear. The only thing that could’ve improved the evening was to have seen it with those friends who made me a Sebadoh fan in the first place. While that didn’t happen, I did see this show with a friend, Christi, who attended even though she had not heard a note of Sebadoh music until the ride to the show (she did know Dinosaur Jr. though and I had completely forgotten to mention that Lou was the bassist in that band when talking to her about the show). By the time the evening was over and we were walking back to the car, Christi announced that she ‘would definitely see Lou again if he returned.’ So, like my friends made me a fan in the 90s, I’ll take credit for making Christi a fan.

In closing, a quick sincere thank you to Jenne, Jesi, Patrick, Tony and Kurt for exposing me to the music of Lou Barlow and Sebadoh, and for being among those who ‘get’ why this guy is so great. You were thought of fondly on this night. Thanks to Kati for taking a friend’s advice and coming to the show literally minutes before Lou started. And special thanks to Christi for being there to share a show that I think I can safely say neither one of us will ever forget.

Thank you for reading (indulging) my attempt to describe an evening that left some sobbing, and left me truly speechless. But again, perhaps Lou sums it up best:

‘If there’s a right thing to say

I’m sure I missed it by a mile.’

–‘Too Pure

–Barry

The Night Adele Left Me Stunned

Part One: How I Got Here



My brother loaned me a copy of Adele’s ‘19’ CD in the spring of 2009, and I immediately loved her unique voice, even if the act of writing about breakups and relationships had been done millions of times. Adele was different. Like everyone, I bought ‘21’ when it was released in 2011, and played it to the point of being burned out on it, having to put it away for a while after listening to it nonstop for months. Then, she wrote and sang the theme for the Bond film ‘Skyfall’ (and her song was the only redeemable thing from a very disappointing film).

 

When ‘25’ was released, NBC was smart enough to cash in by broadcasting portions of a live performance by Adele from Radio City Music Hall Thanksgiving Weekend 2015. I recorded the special and, as I watched, I just remember thinking one thought for the duration of the special: I have to see her in concert!

 

Tickets went on sale in mid-December for a Fall 2016 US Tour. Since I would be attending the show solo, I decided Atlanta was the best city of her planned stops, and she even scheduled two nights, Friday October 28 and Saturday October 29. Amid complaints from fans saying that the shows sold out before they could get a single seat, I managed to snag a floor seat to the Saturday show moments before it became a sellout. All that remained was arranging the travel and accommodations.

 Part Two: I Hate Traveling On Show Day

After much deliberation, I decided to fly out to Atlanta on the day of the show, crossing fingers that I wouldn’t run into any delays that might throw a wrench in my plans. So Saturday around 11am, I arrived at Richmond International Airport for a 1:15pm flight.

Airport security check points are always a crapshoot for me. Sometimes, the TSA Agent is very nice and very understanding and doesn’t cause a big fuss when I explain that I ‘really don’t want to remove my shoes and braces and I know I am going to set off the alarm so you’ll need to wand me.’ This time the agent at RIC Airport was nice, but somewhat shocked that I was traveling alone, even asking ‘Are you sure you’re by yourself?’ All I could answer without laughing was ‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’ He didn’t have a reply and the testing of my canes was completed without further comment.

 

The flight was uneventful and landed actually ahead of schedule. I was in the airport in Atlanta just before 3pm, and after walking what seemed like the entire length of the building, met the shuttle to my hotel. By 4pm, I was standing at the front desk of my hotel as the clerk told me my room was not already paid for. I knew this to be untrue and said as much as diplomatically as possible, even offering to show her a confirmation email I had from Hotels.com. She didn’t want to look at that, so, pressed for time, I told her I would talk to the morning agent when I checked out. I quickly dropped off my bag in my room, changed my shirt and headed out to meet a friend for dinner.

 

Donna is someone I met while I worked at Kaiser Permanente in 2012 while I lived in Atlanta. She was literally the glue that held the office together, and we commuted together on the same shuttle bus every morning and evening during my brief tenure there. I had not seen her since February 2013. When I was last visiting Atlanta this past June, she was out of town, so, even though my time in the city was very short, I knew the one thing I had to do besides the concert that brought me here was catch up with her. We agreed to meet up at The Vortex, a bar/burger joint that is 21+ only and serves fantastic hamburger concoctions.

 

It was great catching up with Donna. She’s recently retired and loving it. I am convinced that the offices at Kaiser Permanente have now fallen apart in her absence, but she disputes that.

 

After dinner, it was about 6:30 (an hour before the stated show time on my ticket) when I stepped into the Midtown Marta Station. Donna was taking the train north back to her car, and I was taking the train south then west to the arena. Standing on the platform, the air was humid, hot and stagnant. That was one aspect of Atlanta I had not really missed.

 

I boarded a train and found a seat. Two guys were looking over the transit map to figure out which stop they had to get off the train, and they were unsure.

 

“Going to Phillips Arena?” I volunteered.

“Yeah,” one of the two said.

“Three more stops, then change to the westbound train for one stop.”

“Thanks.”

“And, at this point, I am hoping she starts later than 7:30,” I said.

“Well, a friend I know who works at the arena said last night she started at 8:10, so we should be fine.”

Hearing this was a great relief. I suddenly went from having 30 minutes to negotiate the MARTA trains, the lines at the arena, and getting to my seat on the floor to now having at least an hour. I got off the south train and headed up the escalator to the westbound train and an agent was yelling ‘Anyone going to Phillips Arena, your train is to the left. There it is…RUN!’ Then she saw me. ‘Don’t run sweetheart, they’ll hold it for you.’

I stepped on the train, which was very overcrowded, and then we all departed one stop later in front of Phillips Arena.

 

Part Three: Showtime!

This was my very first concert that used ‘Credit Card Entry’ instead of an actual paper or electronic ticket. Now, since I had bought the ticket in December, I was issued a new debit card with the same card number, just a different CCV code. When I asked Ticketmaster about this, they instructed me to bring the card, my photo ID and my confirmation email. I had all of that, but the crush of people was such that as I approached the guy asking for tickets, I simply handed him my card and said ‘Let’s see if that works.’

It did, and I was given my seat assignment. Chalk one up for Credit Card Entry, it was flawless!

 

My ‘ticket’ said I had to enter Portal 2, so that was on the other side of the arena. I made my way around to my entrance and found that I was on the level above the floor. After showing my ticket to an attendant, she directed me to a staircase and, I slowly made my way down to the floor. Thanks to a very nice fan who assisted me with the portion of stairs that did not have a railing. I made my way to the floor and handed my ticket slip to another agent.

‘You wanna go all the way to the left, follow that wall and then an agent will lead you to your seat.’

So I did just that, found another agent beside the wall and he said ‘You wanna keep moving toward the stage. You’re pretty close to the front, so the next agent will show you to your seat.’

Walking toward the stage about another 15 rows down, I found another agent who led me to my seat: About fourteen rows from the stage, on the left side of the floor. I mean, I knew I had a floor seat, but as I sat down, I had no idea I was going to be this close. 


Immediately to my left was Karen, a self-professed Adele super fan sporting an Adele jersey (‘Hello’ on the front and ‘25’ on the back). Like me, she snagged her single ticket at face value. A couple on my row paid $1200 apiece for their two seats on the secondary market. Score one for the single people!

As the clock neared 8:15, I said it was getting close to showtime. The preshow music being played was a strange mix: ‘September’ by Earth Wind & Fire; ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’ by Brook Benton and, just before the houselights went down, ‘Sorrow’ by Bowie.

“Holy shit, that’s a deep cut.’ I said out loud to no one.

Moments before the houselights went down, I saw three security personnel wheeling a road case down the aisle toward the ‘B’ stage in the center of the arena. I watched them move toward me, flashlights ablaze even though the arena was still brightly lit. As I watched them pass me, I thought “Oh man, is she in that case? Wow!’ I leaned over to Karen and said ‘Turn around; I think the show starts on the ‘B’ stage’ (which was a few rows behind us). Sure enough as the arena darkened, the eyes on the huge screen opened and a pre-recorded voice said/sang ‘Hello’ a few times. Then Adele appeared in the center of the arena, facing those sitting in the back of the building. I did not see that coming! It was the first of a night full of many surprises.

 

Now, allow this audiophile to geek out for a moment. While Adele was standing in the center of the arena, she belted out the first half of ‘Hello’ but, the monitors for her sound were not at the front of the house, they were behind me, where she was standing on the ‘B’ stage. After singing half the song, she walked down the aisle to the far right of me (flanked by security). When she arrived on the main stage in the front of the arena, someone quite literally flipped a switch and, as she sang the chorus one more time, the sound from the front speakers and monitors hit me like a wall. The difference in volume and mix from my seat was vast.

I had not looked at any setlsts for this tour, knowing only that she opened with ‘Hello’ and closed with her biggest hit, ‘Rolling in the Deep’, so the set was a surprise as it unfolded throughout the show. Her second song was one I didn’t expect, ‘Hometown Glory’ from ‘19’, complete with video footage of Atlanta. Knowing that the ‘21’ and ‘25’ albums would be the showcase pieces, I was happy to hear any song from her debut.

“Are you ready to have a good time Atlanta?” she asked after the second song. The crowd of course roared in approval. “Well, you’ve come to the wrong place I’m afraid. This is two hours and seventeen songs of heartbreak, so if you’re looking for a good time, I suggest you leave now.”

 

Before I go any further, here’s the setlist:

Hello

Hometown Glory

One and Only

Rumour Has It

Water Under the Bridge

I Miss You

Skyfall

Million Years Ago

Don’t You Remember

Make You Feel My Love

Send My Love (to Your New Lover)

Sweetest Devotion

Chasing Pavements

Someone Like You

Set Fire to the Rain

Encore:

When We Were Young

Rolling in the Deep

Adele ‘talks a lot’ in between songs, so much so that she apologized ahead of time for her ramblings. While many performers have everything scripted to the millisecond, Adele could take a full five minutes to introduce a song, or, as she did on this night, she could invite a fan who’s 17th birthday was on the evening of the show and have the crowd sing ‘Happy Birthday’ while posing for selfies with the fan and her mom. The lights and visual cues for her songs are scripted, but everything else in between is totally off the cuff. It made for a very sincere expression of appreciation from a performer to her fans.

 

Now, I am an Adele fan, but usually I know going in if a show is going to be ‘life changing’ or ‘mind blowing.’ Seeing Stevie Wonder sing the entire ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ album last year was a Bucket List show. Leonard Cohen in 2009 was a Bucket List show. It was around the middle of the third song of the night when I realized that the evening was going to be unforgettable and mesmerizing, and an unexpected Bucket List show. I literally stood there watching her sing, no gimmicks, no dancers, no props save for a screen, and I was stunned.

 

Mid-set, she did a two song acoustic set, the first of which was my favorite track from ‘25’, ‘Million Years Ago’. I heard that song in November last year when my life was in upheaval, and while I wasn’t quite as melancholy as the lyric suggests, I related to the sentiment. The week the album was released, I literally played that song on repeat for hours at a time. Hearing that song live was unexpected and I was truly taking in the moment and savoring it.

 

As her ‘two hours of heartbreak’ came to an end with 20,000 people singing the chorus to ‘Rolling in the Deep’, a confetti storm began to rain down. As I watched the white confetti rain down, I thought ‘KISS did this already.’ But then, as I caught one and looked at it, I saw a handwritten lyric.

 

Again, I was stunned. Every single piece of confetti had a stamped message in Adele’s handwriting. I gathered four pieces and tucked them in my pocket as I was being escorted to the arena elevator (stairs were not really an option after standing for two hours). The confetti was the last surprise and one that left me speechless.

 

About an hour or so later, I was on MARTA en route back to my hotel. The train wasn’t as crowded as the trip in, and I sat there, not really able to put into thought or words how powerful and emotional the night was. It wasn’t necessarily sad, but it was a wonder to know I was in the presence of someone who is the best at what she does, but who also doesn’t take herself so seriously that she can’t have fun. My advice to you is, if you ever have the opportunity to see her perform, GO! It will be an unforgettable experience.
I have seen many shows this year alone, but, without question the best show I will see in 2016 is Adele. No one else is even remotely close. It may even be the best show I have seen in the last four or five years. The travel, the waking, the stairs, it was all worth it to experience that event, and it is something I will always remember. I am not even sure if it’s possible for me to convey my feelings accurately even days later, but hopefully you get the idea.

 

Part Four: Epilogue 

The next morning, I awoke far too early afer too little sleep to get my flight back home. The morning clerk at the hotel told me that my bill was indeed already paid, I made it through the security check point without having to remove my shoes and I walked my very sore feet to the other end of the airport to get on the plane. My flight included thirty eighth graders, and I sat beside a three year old little girl who was returning from Disneyworld. Sleep was what I wanted, but it wasn’t going to be an option.

 

Still, all worth it.

 

Thank you for reading.

Barry