Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sebadoh III First installment -- the show

Playing right now: Nothing, but Francoise Hardy's self-titled Reprise LP is on the turntable. I won it in an auction and it finally arrived today, along with her album Francoise..., which I also won.

Sebadoh's third album, Sebadoh III, is being reissued in a remastered form, along with a bonus disc of music from that band's era. That album came out at a very significant time in my life (fall of 1991), a time which I remember quite vividly in some regards. I plan on writing at least two entries on it. This is the first one.

It chronicles Sebadoh's October '91 performance at the Upstage Lounge, and what it meant to me.

I'm not sure of the show's exact date, but I believe it was October 13. And I recall this not because I'm Rainman or because I looked at a 1991 calendar but because my birthday is October 7 and I know they came to town within a week of me turning 24. I had been dumped in the previous month by a girlfriend to whom I was quite attached. Thus began the worst semester of my college career and any excuse to go to Chief's, the cheap watering hole for the indie rock college crowd (though not limited to that demographic). I started college late so I was somewhere into my second-and-a-half year of full-time studies. The previous semester had proven to me that good grades weren't out of the question if I put a sincere effort to work, reading assignments on time and diving deep into term papers.

Then the dump came and I was directionless yet again.

Sebadoh came to town on a Sunday night. The previous night I broke off a week-old budding relationship with a co-worker who was a really cool friend who had great tastes in music and books and had the sense of humor to tie up the package. She had a cool cat too. It was hard to do but I didn't feel ready go into something that new just yet. (We'll come back to her later).

I worked that Sunday and when I made it to the Upstage I realized that I had drank a LOT of coffee at work and was really really wired. It was the good kind of wired ("WEEE! I'm flyin'!"). All the other bands had played and Sebadoh was just getting up onstage. My timing was perfect. But the audience, perhaps coupled with the caffeine, had me a little nervous: three of my ex-girlfriends were there, including the one who had dumped me. I think I said hi to her and tried to play it off. One ex, two years after the fact, was a little friendlier and when I did talk to ,it was mostly to her. The third ex was at that time engaged to someone else and since we had a bad breakup, I tried to avoid her. She quickly said hi, though, and there was no drama.

This show was one of the loudest --- no, THE LOUDEST -- show I've ever experienced. A few days later, when sitting at home, I realized I wasn't hearing crickets outside my window. The window in fact was closed and what I was hearing was the ringing in my ears. Sebadoh's bass was rattling my nasal cavities and my sternum. It was painful in a way but the music they were playing was worth the loss of hearing. It was loud and overblown, yet it still had a strong sense of melody, not unlike Mission of Burma or the Volcano Suns. Even when Eric Gaffney was screaming his head off, things could still sound hooky. I think they played "As the World Dies The Eyes of God Grow Bigger," a two chord/quiet-to-loud-back-and-forth opus that gets increasingly more chaotic as it progresses. The wilder things got, the more happy I got. I didn't think any new bands were doing music like this. And up until that point, I thought Sebadoh was just an acoustic oddity/homemade tape act that didn't play rock. Turns out they could do both, and they did it better than most.

I didn't own a CD player, so I wasn't well versed in Sebadoh III just yet. (It was released only on CD, a first for Homestead Records, their label.) But when I finally did play the album, songs like "God Told Me" and "Violet Execution" took me back to that night. They were the perfect combination of tight and teetering on the brink of chaos.

The band changed instruments a lot, but to sustain the momentum they kept switching on a tape of goofball introductions of the band that Lou had recorded. (Among them: "SEBADOH! Featuring the guy who used to play bass in Soul Asylum" and mispronounciations of the band name.) The nearly 12-minute tape of this blather wraps up the bonus CD of Sebadoh III and took me back to that night. Clearly you had to be there to appreciate this track, but I was there and I did.

In the liner notes of the disc, Gaffney talks about the guitar he played, a 5-string low drone open-tuned Sigma acoustic, and while I thought it was Lou Barlow that played it, I do remember such an animal being strummed that night because it seemed like it was hell getting that thing miked.

1991 is known as the year punk rock broke, in part because a couple months later a song called "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was all over the place. But '91 was also the year indie rock completed its gestation period. The term was solidified by Sebadoh's song "Gimme Indie Rock" (also included on the new disc), one of the few instances in which indie rockers were able to poke at themselves in a good natured manner. (Usually indie rock humor relies on jokes that only the jokester and his friends get.) When Sebadoh finished playing that night, along with the shattered ear drums, boundaries were shattered between loud rock and quiet introspective music. They weren't mutually exclusive anymore.

At the end of the night, the heartbreaking ex gave me a ride and before I got out of the car, she leaned over and kissed me, thus beginning a few more months of drama and a slightly rekindled relationship.

But when she left town for school at the end of those 2 months, the friend from work made a pass at me and we've been together ever since. (And she even had an appreciation for Sebadoh III when I played it for her.)

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