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

Foo Fighters Rock RVA

For the last ten years at least, perhaps longer, I have heard many very smart people who work in the music business proclaim with certainty that ‘Rock Music Is Dead!’ It had been replaced by ultra-slick, auto-tuned productions that strived for perfection, but in that pursuit had lost its soul.

‘Rock is dead. The passion is gone. It will never be the same.’

Dave Grohl and his band Foo Fighters obviously never got the message because, on Saturday night they offered a three-hour set of blistering hard rock as testament that Rock and Roll is Alive and Well!

It was something quite wonderful to behold.

Photo by author

Supporting their latest effort, ‘Concrete and Gold’, which was represented well in the evening’s set list, the band took the nearly sold out Richmond Coliseum crowd on a trip through the band’s 20+ year career, playing some songs that had not been played live in a very long time, along with the ones you expect to hear, and even a few that even surprised Dave and the band.

 

‘I say tonight we play songs from every album…so there ain’t much time for talkin’,’ Dave announced to the crowd three songs in. In fact, the songs didn’t stop and Dave didn’t say ‘Hi’ to the audience until they were done playing ten straight songs, almost nonstop. This was my first Foo Fighters show, so while I had seen Dave interviewed and seen some performances on television, I did not know that he basically turns into Animal from the Muppets on stage; a frantic head banging, hair flying maniac.

The featured songs from the new record translate to the stage well, especially ‘Run’ and ‘The Sky Is a Neighborhood’, the latter of which heavily features a trio of female lead singers, brought along on tour to add harmony vocals. I am happy to see on subsequent shows that most of the new material is still being played, although the title track, which was part of an epic 45 minute encore, as of this writing, has not been played since making its live debut Saturday.

Photo courtesy of Brian Hall

Another moment that appears to be a ‘Richmond Exclusive’, since we were the first arena stop on the tour, is drummer Taylor Hawkins’ lead vocal spotlight on a cover of Queen’s ‘I’m In Love With My Car.’ Dave asked the crowd if they liked the song being part of the show, saying they added it since the song inspired Hawkins to be a drummer and a singer. It was a neat moment, but with such a large catalog, I am sure most fans would have rather heard another deep cut from the Foos as opposed to a cover.

After the band left the stage the first time, we all knew they were coming back for an encore. There was a camera backstage that showed Dave urging the crowd to get louder and putting up one finger as if to ask ‘You wanna hear one more?’ Then he put up two, then three and eventually five fingers before finally taking the stage again to play what would indeed be an unforgettable encore.

When the Foo Fighters first hit the scene in the mid-nineties, I liked them, but I wasn’t a huge fan. I liked their songs when I heard them on the radio or when I saw a video on MTV (Although I did get sick of ‘Big Me’ when it seemed to be coming out of every radio speaker), but I didn’t own any records by them. Then I saw the documentary ‘Sound City’ in which Dave chronicles the history of the infamous LA recording studio, and soon after I saw that, I watched the HBO series ‘Sonic Highways’, which featured the band visiting eight US cities and writing and recording a song in each city. It was after that series concluded that I immediately bought the ‘Sonic Highways’ record and made it a point that, the next time Foo Fighters were anywhere close, I would check them out.

I mention all of this because, even though I have delved into the back catalog of the band, ‘Sonic Highways’ remains my favorite and, while I did not expect to hear a majority of that record on Saturday, I was ecstatic to hear two songs specifically. ‘Something From Nothing’, which kicks off the ‘Sonic Highways’ record was featured early in the set (and that song was when I took my glasses off, stowed them away in my pocket and decided to headbang like I was eighteen again, at least for a few songs).

 

As headbanging almost always is for me, it was a very cathartic moment.

 

Later, in the midst of that long encore, after already playing four songs and blowing past the 11:30pm noise ordinance curfew, there was a pause on stage and then Dave said, ‘Watch this! I’m gonna surprise the band!’ He then tore into the opening riff to ‘Congregation’ which is, without question my favorite song from the ‘Sonic Highways’ project, and it may be my favorite song by the band, period. The band quickly joined in, and we were off on one of my favorite concert moments in a very long time. 

The Congregation (Courtesy of Brian Hall)

To me, the song crystalizes how music can be at times as moving and as important as one’s religion or faith. I’ve always had a problem with ‘organized religion’, and some may find it offensive to compare such a secular activity to a religion, or use the word ‘faith’ when talking of music, but in my life, in some of my darkest hours, music has been the one thing that has kept me afloat and helped me see that, even when I was in seemingly insurmountable pain, I could get through it. 
Some lyrics:

Send in the congregation

Open your eyes, step in the light

A jukebox generation

Just as you were

And you need blind faith

No false hope

Do you have blind faith?

No false hope

Where is your blind faith?

No false hope

Open your eyes, open your eyes

Step into the light

Open your eyes, step into the light

I’m grateful they played ‘Congregation’, and I’m now aware that Richmond really did get a very special show. The following night, the encore was much shorter, and ‘Congregation’ has not been played. If this show ends up being the only show where it’s performed (along with probably Nashville, the city that inspired it), then I count myself lucky to have been there. 

Seeing the hordes of sweaty fans on the floor, sharing the experience of this show, it reminded me again that Rock is not dead, and, if you catch the right moment, you can even see Rock thrive in 2017.

The Foo Fighters rocked, and they rocked hard for three hours, and in doing so, they singlehandedly restored my faith in the power of Rock, and the power of music.

So, if they play anywhere close to where you live…GO! You won’t be sorry!

 

Setlist from setlist.fm

 

Run

I’ll Stick Around

Learn to Fly

The Pretender

The Sky Is a Neighborhood

Something From Nothing

Walk

Rope

(Extended outro; with drum solo at the end)

Sunday Rain

My Hero

These Days

Let It Die

(First time live since 4/ 3/12)

All My Life

Enough Space

White Limo

Arlandria

Times Like These

(Solo into full band)

Breakout

Make It Right

I’m in Love With My Car

(Queen cover) (Taylor Hawkins on lead vocals)

Skin and Bones

Jump / Fat Bottomed Girls

(Played during band intros)

Monkey Wrench

Best of You

[Encore]:

Dirty Water

This Is a Call

La Dee Da

Wheels

(First time in the US since 5/ 7/14)

Congregation

Concrete and Gold

(Live debut)

Everlong

 Thank you for reading

-Barry

Alan Doyle Still Has A Smile On His Face (And Four Walls Around Him)

Tuesday night I had the pleasure of seeing Alan Doyle play a very small local music venue. Who is Alan Doyle, you ask? He’s best known as one of the founding members of the band Great Big Sea, who tried their best to hit the big time in the US in the late 90s and early 2000’s after conquering their homeland of Canada a few years before. While they would play to stadium sized crowds in Canada, Great Big Sea (GBS) would play small theatres and clubs in America, where the crowds were smaller, but no less enthusiastic.

GBS is pure nostalgia for me. Their music marks a very specific time period in my life, and reminds me of very specific people. I honestly was not aware that GBS had officially split in 2013. When I heard that Alan Doyle was going to appear at Tin Pan, I knew I had to get a ticket to see what he’d been up to since I last saw him fifteen years ago.

Tin Pan is an interesting, intimate venue in the mold of Alexandria’s Birchmere. They offer dinner reservations with your ticket for preferred seating, and the music, not chatting is the most important thing.

 

After a funny, sardonic and brief opening set by Donavan Woods, Alan took the stage to sing a song a cappella, proving that his voice is still in top form,  then his band Beautiful Gypsies joined him and they started with ‘I Can’t Dance Without You’ from Alan’s latest solo effort, 2015’s ‘So Let’s Go.’ The mix was great, the house was packed and I was pleased to see Alan had not lost any of the gregariousness that made him my favorite member of GBS.

The sing-along started early when the band kicked into ‘When I’m Up’ and Alan demanded audience participation. It was around this time of the night when the crowd began buying Alan shots and doubles of Jameson Whiskey, which Alan never refused.

Here’s the set list, and then some thoughts:

Dream of Home (a cappella)

I Can’t Dance Without You

When I’m Up

Come Out With Me

My Day

Where the Nightingale Sings

Sea of No Cares

The Night Loves Us

Lukey

Forever Light Will Shine

I’ve Seen a Little

In The Morning (Guitarist Cory, solo)

Old Black Rum

Roll Me Bully Boys Row

Consequence Free

Testify

1,2,3,4 (featuring verses from ‘Tub Thumping’ and ‘You Can Call Me Al’)

[Encore]

Wave on Wave

Shine On

Ordinary Day

 

No matter the size of the stage, Alan is a showman, making sure that everyone in attendance has a good time. Even though we were seated at tables and the bar, dancers got up and waltzed, reeled and jigged. 

The biggest surprise for me was that, while with GBS, Alan would sing at least one ballad per album. His set Tuesday was more upbeat and, as such, none of the three pop ballads Alan sang (‘Fast As I Can’, ‘Boston and St. John’s’ and ‘Clearest Indication’) were highlighted. Not that I minded, I was just very surprised. 

Bonus: Murray Foster, formerly of Moxy Fruvous and mote recently the bassist for GBS is part of Alan’s band, as is former GBS drummer Kris MacFarlane. 

As the show ended, Alan implored fans to stick around for autographs and selfies. Instead of sitting behind his merchandise table, just outside the venue in an entrance hall, Alan took a seat at the bar and the fans queued up to get a pic, a signature and share stories. Props to Alan for taking time with everyone, including a ten year old girl who got a drumstick from Kris and the setlist. Alan autographed the setlist and got a picture. He also spoke for a bit with your dear author, whom he remembered from a meeting a very long time ago. 

If you’re like me and lost track of Great Big Sea and their members, Alan has two solo albums (“Boy on Bridge” from 2012 and the aforementioned “So Let’s Go” from 2015) and he’s also written a book. If Alan Doyle, the self-proclaimed ‘Prince of Newfoundland’ and his band of Beautiful Gypsies land in your town, go see him and say hello. It’s a good time, I promise. 


Thanks for reading. 

Barry