Still Going Strong After Two Decades

September 2nd, 2010

Lou Barlow & the Missingmen – Mercury Lounge – September 1, 2010

To say it’s impressive for Lou Barlow to be performing and creating at this consistent level for 20 years is an understatement. He reinvented lo-fi and inspired an army of four-track home-recording artists in the ’90s. He’s been a part of more than his share of pioneering indie-rock bands, all the while tempering sincere moments with an experimental sound collage. To be transported into his bedroom in those early Sebadoh tapes was an education in home recording and songwriting. He has nothing to prove but you wouldn’t have known it last night at Mercury Lounge.

Barlow is at his best unguarded with just an acoustic guitar, and that’s how the night began with a Folk Implosion classic, “Easy,” “Magnets Coil” and even “Puzzle,” off his proper solo album, Emoh. He’s always worn his emotions on his sleeve and isn’t precious about performing these early-career songs. It’s clear, when played stripped down, that the strengths of each are his vocals and how he can be both heartbreakingly intimate and punk rock in the same verse.

The Missingmen joined the reluctant Barlow, who was in good spirits, to flesh out material from his latest, Sentridoh III. They tackled the distortion-ridden tracks, swapping guitars, and inevitably Barlow’s glasses would fall off when things got thrashing. The night ended with him going back to playing solo, a ukulele on his knee and happily taking requests from the audience. It was a great balance of an entire body of incredible songwriting, acknowledging the past and looking ahead to the future. All this success hasn’t come without setbacks: Barlow has persevered through band and label breakups, recently patching up things with ex-bandmate J Mascis and recording with Dinosaur Jr. He’s proved over and over that the nice, sensitive guy can get the girl in the end…and he actually seems pretty happy about it. —Jason Dean