Sebadoh at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Friday (April 23). $13.50 advance. 416-870-8000, 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
Any prolonged absence from the spotlight can be devastating for a popular artist. However, in Sebadoh's case, a lengthy hiatus appears to have benefited the lo-fi auteurs forced into exile during the indie-rock backlash of the late 90s. Ticket sales have been promisingly brisk on the current Sebadoh comeback swing as a new generation of backpack kids buzz with anticipation at seeing Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein sensitively perform their pre-emo near misses in the flesh. And the dependably self-deprecating Barlow is just as surprised at the sudden interest in Sebadoh as anyone.
The whole reunion thing wasn't entirely Barlow's idea. He'd been happily working away at his new solo album in Los Angeles - and adding his vocals to wooshy ambient tracks sent to him by French electronic artistes - when he was asked to play as part of Domino Records' 10th anniversary celebrations. Of course, you can't discount his mom's role in the comeback.
"We did the show for Domino and that worked out great," explains Barlow over the roar of revving motorcycles on the streets of Louisville. "And then there was this benefit concert for a community resource centre in Northampton, Massachusetts, where my mother works. Jason and I played that, too, and people seemed to really like us, so we've set up a few more shows.
"The very negative reaction to the last Sebadoh album combined with the poor ticket sales for our last tour made the message clear - it was, 'OK, Sebadoh, we've had enough of that. Your time is up, goodbye.'
"Since then, we've gone off and done our own things, and with few exceptions we've been met with general indifference.
"So it's a bit of a shock to see how excited people are getting about these Sebadoh shows. Everybody's suddenly like, 'Wow! Amazing! Incredible!' I guess things are changing again."
Conspicuously absent from the Sebadoh reunion shows is third member Eric Gaffney, whose delightfully dark and scattered song contributions worked beautifully to counterbalance the sunny pop aspirations of Barlow. For some people it just won't be Sebadoh without Gaffney's involvement, and despite past conflicts, Barlow sounds genuinely disappointed at not having Gaffney on board.
"The records that we did with Eric are my favourite Sebadoh albums. I love his songs. He's a great drummer, and I always enjoyed the way we played off each other,
"But he doesn't share my opinion. I did whatever I could to keep Eric in Sebadoh, even if that meant letting him quit the band and come back when he wanted. But eventually he left for good.
"If Eric actually liked me and wanted to relax and enjoy the experience of playing with Jason and me purely for the fun of making music together, it would've been great to have him in the band again. And I really made an effort to contact Eric about this, but he doesn't want anything to do with me."
Don't expect to hear any new material at Sebadoh's upcoming Horseshoe gig Friday (April 23). Thus far, there are no plans for a new Sebadoh recording.
"New songs?" chuckles Barlow. "Oh no, we're too busy right now relearning the old songs to write new ones.
"And we're definitely not going to do any of Eric's material. He'd find out, and that would definitely piss him off. As hard as it's been to deal with him, that'll just make it even more difficult in the future.
"And besides, even if I wanted to sing Eric's songs, there's way too many words in them. I couldn't possibly remember them all."