Show Review: Lou Barlow and Wye Oak at Daniel Street, Milford, CT 8/17/10

words and photos by Jon Aubin | Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Lou Barlow is best known as the bass player in Dinosaur Jr., but not long ago he was one of the principal singer-songwriters of his generation as the lead vocalist and songwriter of hugely influential lo-fi punk/folk bands, Sebadoh and Folk Implosion.  He’s now part of an exclusive club of innovative indie elderstatesmen (that includes Malkmus, Moore, Black, and Pollard) that are entering their senescence.  Tonight, Lou Barlow reminded his fans of the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Sandwiched between two five-song solo acoustic mini-sets, Lou and the Missingmen — Raul Morales (drums) and Tom Watson (bass, guitar) — delivered a full throttle set of new songs from Barlow’s recent self-releases.  The new songs have an explosive immediacy that, combined with Barlow’s infectious pop hooks, make the last 10 years of relative stasis/self-parody disappear amidst swirls of glorious distortion.  Lou has a variety of effects pedals that he manipulates with the sure-footed skill of a veteran church organist.  The pedal rig itself looks like something from the deck of the USS Enterprise.

Lou prefaced the show with an apology:  “Half of our gear is broken.  This guitar usually has a much richer tone.” Before he even played a note, as if on cue, his microphone fell from his acoustic (thus would begin an the evening’s theme, that included Lou’s glasses falling off repeatedly mid-thrash).  “Does anyone have any tape?” he pleaded with the audience.   Jenn Wasner, from opener Wye Oak, came and performed a quick on-stage fix.  This was the first date of their tour together, and Wye Oak hung out for the entirety of Lou’s set — a sure sign of respect.

Lou began with acoustic versions of classics like “Magnet’s Coil” and “The Freed Pig.”  He concluded the set likewise, playing solo acoustic versions of his more recognizable tunes, including a heartfelt rendering of “Soul and Fire” on ukulele, muttering classic ‘tween-song Lou-isms like: “All of a sudden I feel depressed.” At one point late in the set, most likely as an observation regarding the maturity of his audience, which was reverently silent for his acoustic numbers, Lou remarked:  “If you have kids, what are you doing here?  I don’t go to shows anymore unless I’m playing at them, so it means so much to me that you’re here.”  Lou’s self-deprecatory sense of humor was on display all night: “I have a reputation for being oversensitive” — no kidding.  But sideman Tom Watson probably got in the night’s best line:  “Next time we’ll have a setlist.  You won’t like it as much.”  Lou ended the night with Smash Your Head on the Punk Rock‘s “Vampire ” and “Brand New Love,” sending all of us new and soon-to-be parents home happy.  It can sometimes be easy to dismiss our idols once we’ve moved on to newer, shinier obsessions, but Lou Barlow proved tonight that his music is still relevant and his voice still resonates.

Baltimore-based duo and Merge Records stablemates, Wye Oak, opened the show with a blistering set of recent and new songs, including set highlights “That I Do” and “For Prayer” from their critically acclaimed second album The Knot.  Wye Oak has an interesting dynamic.  They look like latchkey kids that might practice in your neighbor’s garage, but their sound is immense.  It’s all the more impressive knowing it’s made by only two people.

Lead vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner has a gorgeously textured voice that occasionally affects a country twang reminiscent of the high lonesome tones of alt-country chanteuses Neko Case and The Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Michael as well as cross-town rival Victoria Legrand (of Beach House), and that’s meant in the most complimentary terms possible.  She also has a dry wit and deadpan delivery:  “This is the best town we’ve ever played in…whose name begins with ‘Milf.'”

Speaking with Wasner at the merch table after the show, she mentioned the new album has already been tracked and will be mixed at the conclusion of this tour, which means we have another dose of incendiary indie rock on the horizon.  Also, unlike their previous albums, all indications from Jenn hint that their upcoming album will be released on vinyl in addition to CD and digital formats.