Noise Pop: Cats have nine lives

Pub date February 21, 2007
WriterAri Messer
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Few numbers are as loaded as three. From the Holy Trinity to the three main spiritual channels in our bodies described by kabbalists and yogis alike, spiritual triads exist alongside musical forms of threeness: the exponential sound of the power trio, great albums named III, and, indeed, Loudon Wainwright III.

The trio Sebadoh, early harbingers of indie rock, had their own III back in 1991, trading off instruments and artistic wills to make 23 wonderfully unpredictable tracks of folk-core meanderings and spastic noise rock shape-shifting. It’s pretty much universally acknowledged that this record rocked in ways previously unknown. But what really went on between the three original members, Eric Gaffney, Lou Barlow, and Jason Loewenstein? They had all gone on to solo careers before announcing last year both the reissue of III on Domino and a gig at the Great American Music Hall for Noise Pop, an early stop on the Sebadoh "reunion" tour from the West Coast to Toronto and back again.

But Sebadoh’s members aren’t surprised to find themselves together again. "Sebadoh have never reissued anything," Barlow said recently on the phone from his house in Los Angeles, while his young daughter seemed to be taking a noise rock solo in the background. "I think Pavement were reissuing things within two years of being together. The question is, actually, why didn’t we ever reissue things before?"

The new III is fantastic, complete with a bonus disc including the prescient Gimme Indie Rock! EP, the original four-track demo of "The Freed Pig," and "Showtape ’91," a noise and word collage that’s a flashback to the original supporting tour for III. The reissue process was typically strenuous but also cathartic. It was partly to deal with Homestead Records, the album’s original label, Gaffney explained in a recent e-mail. "Signing to Homestead turned out to be a bad idea, so years later I filed a lawsuit … to try to get paid and get the masters back."

Sebadoh never got them back. So how did a reissue happen? "We worked on the bonus disc, and then it was remastered at Abbey Road from a store-bought III CD and the vinyl," Gaffney wrote. "I found a lot of old band tapes for the ‘bonus’ CD. Good stuff."

Barlow agreed, sort of. "A few years ago, Eric and I had an e-mail conversation … an e-mail war … where we just basically went point-by-point through every misunderstanding we had between us, and it all culminated in the reissue. I really just kind of had to let Eric choose what went on the extras disc. But it was totally worth it just to get the record out." They both got what they needed out of the process, Barlow said. "And then it just kind of came up that, well, I guess we could play some shows. Let’s up the ante here! What’s the next logical challenge?" III is an important Sebadoh disc partly because the clash of wills and styles made the music sound so driven. If their accomplished solo projects are any indication, the tour should rock hard and sweet, and that’s all that matters. They plan to play off the crowd, Barlow said, and sets may include material from any time in Sebadoh’s history. "It’s when we get lost in the moment and enjoy the music and drop the phony power plays, that’s when it’s happening," wrote Gaffney, who lives and breathes right here in San Francisco. In other words, the third time — Sebadoh with Gaffney, without, and now again with — is a charm. (Ari Messer)


With the Bent Mustache, Love of Diagrams, and the New Trust

Feb. 28, 8 p.m., $18–$20

Great American Music Hall

859 O’Farrell, SF

(415) 885-0750