Lou Barlow, an icon of the indie-rock world, is passing through Savannah for an intimate, solo performance this weekend at Graveface Records & Curiosities.
Mostly known for his role as a founding member of Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion, Barlow’s 30-plus-year career has been marked by major and indie label releases that have elevated him to legendary status in the indie-rock world.
Barlow and his bands, as well as groups like Guided by Voices, are credited with the creation of the lo-fi indie-rock music of the late 1990s. Built on the model of early DIY bands and labels, lo-fi recordings steered away from the high-fidelity aesthetic, exploring a grittier sound on record.
Through the years, his two primary projects, Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh, have been inextricably linked yet remained separate entities as he’s flowed in and out of the bands. Barlow was fired after the third Dinosaur Jr. album, 1988’s “Bug,” was released, due to conflicts with guitarist/singer J Mascis.
Sebadoh become Barlow’s primary outlet through the 1990s before they took a 14-year break from recording, only playing live on occasion. They returned to the studio, releasing “Defend Yourself” in 2013. Folk Implosion was relatively unknown, and now defunct, until the song “Natural One,” became a hit single in the U.S. and U.K, appearing on the soundtrack for the film “Kids” in the mid-1990s.
In the early oughts, Mascis and Barlow made amends of a sort, eventually leading to the highly touted return of Dinosaur Jr. in 2006. Since then, they’ve released four critically acclaimed studio albums and continue to tour together. Their first album back with the original trio, (including drummer Emmett “Murph” Murphy), 2009’s “Farm” debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 29 and went on to sell more than 50,000 copies in the U.S.
“At the heart of the band is J, and he has a vision,” Barlow said in an interview with bandcamp daily. “He writes 80 percent of the songs, at least. The longer that we’re together, the cool thing that I’ve realized is that the vision is not an inflexible thing. I have an amount of freedom when we sit down and put the songs together. I more or less write my own bass parts, but if something doesn’t work on a song of his, I’ve gotta change it.
"Having been in bands that are democracies, I find having J. as a leader a great relief. Over the years since the reunion, there’s been times when I’ve needled. ‘Do I have to do this? What are we doing this for?’ I’ve questioned things along the way, but in the end, I get answers. It’s not a democracy, but it works.”
Away from his full-band projects, Barlow began writing and releasing music under his own name in 2005. Shifting from the towering rock of Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh, and armed with a down-tuned ukulele and acoustic guitars, Barlow’s solo work downshifts into a singer/songwriter spectrum while still carrying the roots of post-punk and indie-rock that created the foundation of his bands.
“If it was all just big, loud noise all the time, I would lose my mind,” Barlow told Noisey in 2015. “That’s why I go back and make these quieter songs. It keeps me balanced.”
Barlow is expected to reach into his back catalogue for the acoustic solo show in Savannah. Stories will be told and requests will be taken, as well. For a little extra dough, you can also have dinner with Barlow and his father John.