Concert preview: Lou Barlow at Two Dollar Radio
After performing in rock clubs for 30 years, Sebadoh frontman and Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow has more recently preferred playing low-key house shows and stripped-down, early evening concerts in alternative spaces, entertaining fans using only his voice and an acoustic guitar or a detuned ukulele.
“I like that kind of intimacy when I play acoustic. I like the immediacy of it,” Barlow said recently from the road. “At this point, too, the people who are still listening to my music, they've been listening to me for a long time, and doing it this way is more direct to the people who care. … Most people who come are Sebadoh fans, maybe a few Dinosaur super-fans — like such big fans that they'll actually go see the bass player play an acoustic show: ‘I've never really heard you before, but, love Dinosaur, man!'”
For solo tours, Barlow prefers to have a traveling companion, especially after he recently slipped on a patch of ice while holding his daughter and broke his collarbone in the fall (hence the above photo). On his current tour, which will make a stop at Two Dollar Radio's headquarters on Wednesday, May 16, Barlow is accompanied by Sebadoh drummer Bob D'Amico. On a previous tour, after the collarbone incident, Barlow brought along another guy he's known for a while — his dad.
“He's a Dayton, Ohio boy. He's super friendly. My parents are very classically Midwestern. I knew he would be a real asset socially for me, and that he would have a good time. And that's what happened,” he said. “I wanted to be a father because he was a good father. My parents made it seem like being a parent was something that was a worthwhile thing to do with your time on earth.”
While Barlow was raised in a loving home, he also struggled with internal anxieties about external forces. “I grew up absolutely convinced we were going to die in a nuclear inferno,” he said. “That's what kept me up at night as a kid.”
Barlow remained fascinated with world-ending wars and doomsday culture, eventually putting his thoughts into song on 2016 EPApocalypse Fetish. The title track is a strummy, ominous look at the undelivered promise of an apocalypse that never came. “So raised on fear, expect the fear/Don't you ever let it go,” he sings.
“Fear is an incredibly pervasive, powerful force. I've felt it myself. When I moved to LA in the mid-'90s, I was just paralyzed with fear about that place,” he said. “That diminished dramatically as I lived there. … A lot of my fears have dissipated over the years. I travel a lot. I don't stay home. I have to get out and face my fears on a regular basis.”
Newly released single “Love Intervene” addresses similar socio-political themes, this time in a full-band arrangement and with a bigger dose of optimism. Barlow offers up the chorus as if it's a prayer: “Love intervene, please show them the way.”
“When I look back historically, there's always this swing back and forth, and at some point people do decide to take care of each other [and] say, ‘Let's bridge this fear rather than give into it,'” Barlow said. “When I was a kid, faced with all this fear that I had of war, I was like, ‘What keeps the world from spiraling out of control continuously? What makes things continually better?' We, as Americans, imagine everything getting worse and worse, but the real story throughout the world is that it's actually getting better.”
Two Dollar Radio
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 16
1124 Parsons Ave., South Side