Lou Barlow – The Kings Arms January 23, 2016


Lou Barlow 30Lou Barlow has been a fairly regular visitor to our shores over the past few years, as a member of Dinosaur Jr and Sebadoh, and as a solo performer. This overfamiliarity may explain the somewhat sparse crowd that turned out on a Saturday night at Auckland’s Kings Arms, which is a shame because Barlow has an excellent new solo album, Brace The Wave, that he is promoting, and the personal songs on that record are best heard in an intimate live setting such as the Kings Arms.

Garageland frontman Jeremy Eade took the stage at about 9:10 and played a short solo set to a handful of loyal fans. Armed with just an electric guitar, Eade performed favourites such as Beelines To Heaven and Fingerpops, but seemed more interested in taking the opportunity to play a selection of covers. These ranged from blues workouts like Arthur Crudup’s That’s All Right (best known by Elvis Presley) and Slim Harpo’s Shake Your Hips (best known by The Rolling Stones) to a delightful version of David Bowie’s Sound And Vision.

Eade was on and off in just under 30 minutes and Barlow shuffled on to the stage promptly at 10pm. By this time the stage was dressed with a small table, a chair and a small synthesizer. Barlow, sporting long hair and a full beard, sat down, and began by playing Redeemed, one of the highlights from Brace The Wave, on his ukulele, adding a flourish of electronica at the end on his synth.

Barlow was in good voice and the sounds he elicited from the 4-string uke were impressive. Although his long hair, beard and glasses obscured his face, his music, particularly his lyrics, quickly forged a connection with the crowd.

By the time he got to the third song, Sebadoh’s I Will, a fan in the front was offering up a beer, which Barlow turned down, explaining that it would make him gassy.

Other than I Will, the first part of the show was dedicated to Brace The Wave, with Lou playing eight of the album’s nine tracks, switching from Ukulele to acoustic guitar and standing after I Will. Barlow spiced up a few of the tunes with a bit of synthesizer and looping, but this was predominantly a singer-songwriter affair…guitar and vocals.

As the set progressed, Barlow opened up more to the audience, telling stories and interacting with the crowd. After playing the last song from Brace The Wave, it seemed he had no plan, opening the show up to requests and playing songs as they popped into his head.

The first of these was a new tune that, according to Barlow, will appear on a new Dinosaur Jr album, welcome news to many of the folks in attendance. The song is still a work in progress and Barlow has not performed it often, leading him to stop in the middle after fluffing the chorus.

This was when thing got really interesting. You could see Barlow struggle to carry on, beating himself up for messing up the song. This anxiety was made apparent throughout the remainder of the show. At one point, when discussing his band The Folk Implosion, he explained how bandmate John Davis left the group the day their album, One Part Lullaby, was released, blaming himself and repeating “I suck”.

This anxiety and self-loathing comes out in Barlow’s songs…his most recent tunes deal with his recent marital breakup. He also blamed himself for the low turnout at the previous night’s show in Christchurch. “Don’t blame Christchurch”, he told the crowd, “it’s my fault”.

This could have made for uncomfortable and awkward moments on stage, but Lou’s honesty with the audience put them firmly on his side and by the end of the show, the fan who had offered up the beer earlier was leading the crowd with three cheers and a hip hip hooray for Lou Barlow.

The night ended triumphantly with a trio of Sebadoh tunes from the 90s and Lou then made his way to the merch table to flog a few t-shirts, hopefully feeling more confident and less anxious than when he arrived.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Ivan Karczewski:

Lou Barlow set list:

  1. Redeemed
  2. Wave
  3. I Will
  4. Nerve
  5. Pulse
  6. Lazy
  7. Boundaries
  8. C & E
  9. Repeat
  10. New Song (possibly Love Is The Law)
  11. Skull
  12. Imagination Blind
  13. Legendary
  14. Free To Go
  15. Too Pure
  16. The Freed Pig
  17. Home
  18. Beauty Of The Ride
  19. Not A Friend
  20. Soul And Fire