|I moved to St. Louis in October 2007 to work with the St. Louis County Library as an Assistant Manager. As a KDHX music writer, my musical interests lean toward the alternative side. I like poetic lyrics and singer-songwriters with spacey jams and soul-embracing honesty. I live with my husband, dog and two cats in Webster Groves.|
With curly bob haircut and thick, black-rimmed glasses that often slipped to the bottom of his nose, Mr. Lou Barlow (of famed bands Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh) opened his headlining set at Off Broadway solo, with acoustic guitar and feet bare on the stage. The mood set by his first cluster of acoustic songs reminded this listener of Nick Drake (Nick Drake with a pulse), a sound sewn into the fabric of great songwriting, plucked masterfully by the 44-year-old artist.
Lou (the show really was too intimate to use formalities like Mr. Barlow) shared inner monologues with the audience. He thought that he played his first song badly, told himself to shut up, got down on himself — and then requested a whiskey neat. “I just recently learned what neat means,” he said. This kind of off-the-cuff, conversational relationship created with the intimate audience (maybe 100 in attendance) made this show fit into my favorite type of concert, one free of the contrived, pre-planned, arena-packaged feel.
Lou took requests and played the acoustic set with soft strums. One tune evoked for me a rusted halo and a woman with her hand on her hip. One song after another brought to mind tender ballads, for that is what these songs are, sung in a melodic tenor. In between performances, Lou tossed out his thoughts and then chastised himself for saying them: “I’m always saying things that shouldn’t be said. Who gives a fuck?” This was after he commented on the haunting loveliness and “space rock” of opening band Wye Oak.
Once the Missingmen joined him on stage, the concert went electric. A “there you go” moment hit, shaking Off Broadway with guitars and drum bursts. The Missingmen know how to rock. Lead guitarist Tom Watson hit the effect pedals and the band flew into a running jam. With each song, opportunities for balancing elements of tenderness and heavy, loud rock presented; however, the melding didn’t always work. When it did (most of the time) the musicians knew how to temper vulnerability with confidence. Lou said, “Now we’ll go into something more mellow,” and the word “mellow” solidified everything about what the band is doing, walking a tight rope between “relaxed” and “energetic.” Screaming guitars and banging drums met lovely ballads: The band hit its stride just as Lou sang, “I have too much freedom.”
It struck me how versatile this band and singer are. The Nick Drake-like vulnerability contrasts with the dramatic, hard-core guitars, heavy drums, thrashing and screaming noise-bang. My favorite moments occurred when the extremes met up and the hard and the soft created a musical space for Lou’s tender, high-octave vocals to co-exist with edgy beats and jamming riffs.
Lou ended the night with more acoustic numbers, some played on ukulele and others with acoustic guitar. The final note and vibe of the evening left listeners with the tender side of Lou Barlow and the Missingmen, with songs that seeped into so many parts of the audience, the angry moments needing release through screaming, banging and wailing, and the healing moments expressed through tender, honey-tongued poetry strummed beautifully on guitar.
Set list (incomplete, corrections and additions welcome)
Lou Barlow with the Missingmen:
The One I Call
Too Much Freedom
One Machine, One Long Fight
Faith Defies the Night