LIVE: Lou Barlow @ Rare Form Brewing, Troy, 08/03/2021

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Lou Barlow is, by any measure, an accomplished musician. Cofounder of legendary alt-rock favorites Dinosaur Jr. and lo-fi pioneers Sebadoh (not to mention Folk Implosion and four solo albums), he has an impressive body of work.  Not exactly the type of guy you’d expect to find playing to 50 some odd people outside on a random weekday night.  But that’s exactly what we got at Rare Form Brewing in Troy on Tuesday night.

He strolled out in a completely unassuming manner, 3 guitars and a ukulele in tow.  He perched himself on a stool (barefoot) and proceeded to have a 2 ½ hour-long conversation with the audience.  Inviting them to come closer for the very intimate show, he opened with… Bryan Adams “Run to You”??  He explained that he always liked to open with cover songs to “get the kinks out”, and almost as if to prove it, proceeded to have feedback issues before the sound finally cut out completely.  Good call.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

He rolled on, however, and things began to tighten up.  Quickly getting to “Skull” and “Healthy Sick”, it became easier to see the talent on display.  He’d mix immediately successful tracks like “Reason to Live” (from his most recent album of the same name), with others that (while appealing) weren’t exactly drum tight.  His music was quiet and introspective, and he would have to contend with noise from birds and passing motorcycles throughout his set.  But he did this most effectively, interspersing often humorous banter throughout the night.

The upside of a selfless 2 ½ hour set is that there’s plenty of time to find your full stride, and find his stride he did as the night moved on.  A stretch including “I Believe in Fate”, “Poledo” (which he confirmed that he wrote on acid), and “I Don’t Like Changes” removed any doubt as to both his credentials and his chops.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

A less immediately grabbing, but still interesting, sequence followed.  It occurred to me how dark much of his material is.  It is – without question – brutally honest.  And I’m not sure there’s much more you can ask of an artist than that.  But you better be in the right headspace for it, or it will take you to places unwillingly.  Before things got too heavy, however, he lightened things up a bit by sharing that he’s a hair metal fan (and played Ratt’s “Round and Round” to prove it).

The latter part of his set was an unmitigated, uplifting success.  Highlights included a spirited “All You People Suck”, the always disarming “The Ballad of Daykitty”, “Legendary”, and “Love Is…”, before wrapping things up with the closest things to “hits” he’s had: “Natural One” (number 26 on the charts!) and “Flame”.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

This show was quite a ride.  It had to be at least 70% requests from the audience, which is no small feat for a man with a catalogue as deep as his.  At one point, someone requested Joni Mitchell, to which he replied “Fuck no.  I love Joni Mitchell.  But Joni Mitchell is like grass-fed ribeye.  I’m fucking cube steak.”  A funny bit of banter, and from the heart to be sure.  But ridiculous.  Lou is his own kind of prime cut, and he very much reminded us of that Tuesday night.

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