Lo-fi, High Expectations

Will Sebadoh end up ruling the DIY world it helped create?

It was around the time of 1991's Sebadoh III that Jason Loewenstein came onboard as the band's third member, and the trio began freely trading instruments and songwriting duties. At the same time, though, the creative and personal distance between Gaffney and Barlow was growing uncomfortable. Gaffney quit the band no less than three times between 1990 and 1993, each episode usually sparked by his unwillingness to tour. Every time Gaffney bailed, drummer Bob Fay dutifully picked up his sticks and filled in. By 1994's Bakesale, Sebadoh's most varied and complete effort to date, Gaffney was out of the picture and Fay was behind the set for good.

Gaffney had fed Barlow's lo-fi instincts, but with him gone, Barlow seemed willing to add a little more polish to his efforts. Both Bakesale and the new Harmacy are more sophisticated and clearly recorded than anything Sebadoh had attempted before. Even so, the group has matured on its own enigmatic terms. "If you make a strange eccentric record ... it takes on its own mood," says Barlow. "Because it's less about a shrewd marketing plan [and] more about an individual emotion."

Raw feeling notwithstanding, Sebadoh has been known to suck live. Their playing and enthusiasm is often a hit-and-miss proposition with more misses than hits -- and they know it. "We use different guitar tunings," Barlow explains. "And I'm a complete retard."

As when recording, Sebadoh has always been game for experimentation on-stage, switching instruments and band roles frequently. But while that's been a positive influence on Sebadoh's CDs, live, all the messing about has hurt more than it's helped.

This time out, though, things may be different. "We've been rehearsing," claims Barlow. "I've put down a bunch of rules that I think help, and we tested them on the last tour. They work. I've stopped smoking pot before I play -- and no drinking. I keep the tantrums to a minimum, because people don't want to see that."

Ah yes, the tantrums. At one stop on the Bakesale tour, time between songs in a packed New Mexico club often extended to five minutes. The restless crowd taunted Barlow, and pandemonium ensued. At the Filmore in San Francisco during the same road trip, equipment difficulty and a tense overall vibe proved too much for Barlow, and he exited after only ten songs. But this time out, armed with a rock-solid lineup and a fine new release, Sebadoh has a shot at ruling a respectable portion of the planet.

Sebadoh performs Friday, January 31, at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10. Those Bastard Souls open. For info, call 862-3838.

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