Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue
Flaming Lips, Sebadoh, Robyn Hitchcock
A friend of mine -- the sort of Robyn Hitchcock fan who hits his Web sites every few days -- has been keeping up with the fans' online reviews of the current tour their cult hero is on with The Flaming Lips and Sebadoh. "They all seem to like the Flaming Lips pretty well," he reports. "But they really don't like Sebadoh at all. Which is weird, since Sebadoh is poppy and the Lips are all over the place." This particular friend likes all three acts, is eagerly awaiting the Dallas date of the thinking-man's Minipalooza, and was surprised at the opinions of his fellow fans -- a pop-loving mob if ever there was one. Of course, when Hitchcock is involved, surprises are to be expected.
But surely the explanation for Lips love and Lou (Barlow) dismissal lies deeper than the superficial pop construct and somewhere closer to the spinal column, where the organic ooze of the guts and the dreamy smatterings of the brain meet. Sebadoh's Lou Barlow may have adopted a more accessible, Beatle-esque approach to songwriting and recording on the band's latest album, The Sebadoh, having mostly done away with four-track hiss and open-ended outbursts, but the polish doesn't cancel out Barlow's rather scruffy, concrete lyrics. He still writes traditional love songs about hate, still keeps to the well-worn cynicism of Heartbreak and Loneliness 101. The sound may be prettier, but Barlow's feeling aren't.
Hitchcock fans are more responsive to abstractions and conflicting images; however Lennon-McCartney-bound Hitchcock's guitar riffing, the main attraction for his fans is his bizarre poetics and ethereal presentation. (If it were only about the chord progressions, rabid Hitchcock fans would be rabid fans of the Beatles' other direct descendants -- Elvis Costello, Crowded House, XTC -- yet they're not. Nor are Costello fans necessarily Hitchcock fans. Just ask them.) But the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne knows a thing or two about acid-trippy, Fellini-stoked descriptions of the mundane and tends to favor the lyrically baroque and disturbing. He can turn a two-chord ditty about rock and roll into a cathartic observation about Christianity and hell, and a lineup of car stereos into a dissonant symphony. And when he doses these adventures with a hit of bubble gum, he's got the Hitchcock clan eating from his filthy, dreamy palm.
It should come as no surprise that the Lips (on the heels of their newest full-length The Soft Bulletin) put together this alterna-scene-of-the-summer tour, what with the band's history of one Converse lowtop on Amerindie terra firma and one foot in the Milky Way. It certainly won't hurt the Anglophile Hitchcock fans -- attending to hear songs off his new album Jewels for Sophia -- to witness Sebadoh's brand of bulletproof rock, just as it won't hurt staid followers of Barlow and Jason Loewenstein to expose their ears to some psychedelic implosion. Probably more than a few viewers will want to catch all three, but you'll know the Hitchcock fans by the frogs on their shoulders and blank stares at Barlow's plain-speak roar.
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