Lou Barlow, Islington Academy, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

American indie rockers don't give up, they simply turn down the volume and take the acoustic, introspective route for a while. The former Lemonheads singer Evan Dando did it a few years back, touring solo with warmth, charisma and a full set of fine songs in his favour. Recently, Lou Barlow, the prolific former main man in the seminal 1990s American indie group Sebadoh, also of Dinosaur Jr and The Folk Implosion fame, has been doing the same on the back of his current solo album, Emoh. And, like Dando, he's pulling it off with sweet aplomb.

American indie rockers don't give up, they simply turn down the volume and take the acoustic, introspective route for a while. The former Lemonheads singer Evan Dando did it a few years back, touring solo with warmth, charisma and a full set of fine songs in his favour. Recently, Lou Barlow, the prolific former main man in the seminal 1990s American indie group Sebadoh, also of Dinosaur Jr and The Folk Implosion fame, has been doing the same on the back of his current solo album, Emoh. And, like Dando, he's pulling it off with sweet aplomb.

Granted, the critical reaction to Emoh - the title is a double pun on American "emotional punk" and "home", in keeping with its down-home flavours - was split. Some welcomed the clean, acoustic sound for its openness; others missed the DIY sound and poignant confessionals that defined Sebadoh. The latter verdict seems unfair, though, as Sebadoh were often at their best on Barlow's gentler reflections on romantic befuddlement - songs such as "Soul and Fire", say, or "Willing to Wait".

Besides, the lo-fi flavour of Barlow's early Sebadoh work wasn't necessarily any more honest than his recent songs simply because it had a patina of authenticity about it. It was just fuzzier.

The emotional intimacy and self-questioning of Barlow's songs is still apparent, too, even if he now balances dissections of love soured with ditties on the finer details of domesticity. Tonight, he pitches "If I Could" as a song about maintaining sexual relations in a long-term relationship ("Impossible!" someone in the audience shouts). Later, Barlow manages to sing three songs hinged on the homely metaphor of cats without getting cutesy.

The audience hang on every word. There's a lot of love for Lou, and he rewards it by pitching his delivery somewhere between self-deprecating dude and amenable old pro, improving significantly on his often shambolic showings with Sebadoh. When someone shouts for "Ocean", from Sebadoh's Harmacy, Barlow improvs his way through it (he doesn't finish, but the thought was there). He's the consummate charming entertainer and, as such, doesn't let Sebadoh fans go home without hearing a few favourites. "Too Pure" gets an airing, and, of course, "Soul and Fire", which Barlow wrote as a 24-year-old fighting a "campaign of emotional terrorism" to win his girlfriend back. He croons so warmly that it comes as no surprise to learn that he's now married to the woman in question.

Comments