Sebadoh / Flower Fox Cabaret, Vancouver BC, June 1

Sebadoh / Flower Fox Cabaret, Vancouver BC, June 1
Photo: Sharon Steele
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Last month, Sebadoh released Act Surprised, their best album since returning from a 14-year hiatus in 2012. On Saturday night, they put on a blistering show at the Fox Cabaret, proving they are still at the top of their game as a live band, too.
 
Last month also marked the return of the evening's openers, Flower; their hiatus lasted more than twice as long as Sebadoh's. Flower used to run in the same musical circles as fellow New Yorkers Sonic Youth and Swans, but, like Sebadoh, Flower's noisy rock is cleaner cut and more melodic. Flower asked if anyone in the audience knew the band's songs. The audience responded with silence and headshakes. Despite the crickets, Flower got the audience of mostly Gen X'ers to bob their heads and bounce where they stood.
 
The differences between Sebadoh's primary songwriters, Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein, became abundantly clear depending on who lead the song. Early in the set, Lou guided the band through catchier selections. They rolled through breezy rockers "See-Saw" and "Medicate" with utmost finesse.
 
The louder portion of the set commenced when Jason traded his bass for Lou's guitar and took over vocals. They sank into their new roles, starting with the rumbling "Phantom." They stayed in this crunchier, more aggressive configuration for a handful of songs. During this stretch, Jason's buzzing guitar work and the band's sheer volume drowned out his vocals. This was Sebadoh's only flaw, and at a rock show, it was a minor infraction.
 
As soon as Jason and Lou switched back, the volume dropped, and Sebadoh came back into clearer focus. But they still played with great intensity. "Celebrate the Void" provided moments to breath, but the song quickly revved up. During its exploding choruses, Lou dug deep and sang with a gravely growl. He was also the one who led "Give Up," which was an absolute ripper. They played the fast parts even more quickly, and they stretched out the heavy, slow parts. Lou's guitar solo was as needle-y as it is on record.
 
Despite the focus on Lou and Jason, Robert D'Amico's mastery of the drums can't be ignored. He was particularly skilled and hard-hitting on "Forced Love." He even showed off jazz drumming techniques when Lou tuned his guitar. Jason joined the improv on bass. "A piece of me dies when they do this," Lou griped.
 
If the audience was 25 years younger, it would have moshed throughout Sebadoh. But fans showed their appreciation by calling for an encore — after Lou had already slipped behind the merch table, bringing the show to a definitive end.