Reviews

The Folk Implosion

Devin Robinson
The Folk Implosion

The Folk Implosion

City: San Francisco
Venue: Bottom of the Hill
Date: 2003-02-27
"Somebody told me they saw Eric Gaffney today and that he said 'hi.' I have a lot of scores to settle, and when I do, that will be one of the first," a somber Lou Barlow to the crowd at the Bottom of the Hill. Lou Barlow was, at one time, the quintessential indie rock sideman. Whether providing beefy thrash for East Coast hardcore outfit Deep Wound, or providing the distorted arterial structure for early Dinosaur Jr.'s wall of noise cum arena rock, Barlow seemed to always quietly be put, and later quietly put himself, in the position of second fiddle. Too gaunt and geeky to fit within the rigid macho confines of hardcore and mentally distraught by Dinosaur's resident T. Rex J Mascis, Barlow managed to create an identity as the beloved and beleaguered role player, the underdog and loveable loser. As the original Dinosaur Jr. evolved into a watered-down pop smudge, Barlow delved deep into his home tape-collage side-project, Sebadoh, and upon his dismissal from Dinosaur Jr., turned it into a full time gig with Eric Gaffney and Jason Loewenstein joining the fray. Critical praise for Sebadoh and strong album sales on the inveterate Sub Pop turned Barlow into an indie god, the lovable loser that thrift-store rag and bespectacled boys and girls can't get enough of; a sort of cult hero geek. Yet his to-the-side nature also kept him involved in several side projects: Sentridoh, solo work and, most notably, The Folk Implosion, formed with noted recluse and musical iconoclast John Davis. Folk Implosion hit their commercial and artistic peak providing the soundtrack to the movie Kids, scoring an unlikely hit with the jumpy, poppy and lopsided "Natural One" and all the fanfare associated with such matters. Folk Implosion releases with Davis were awesome -- a tightly wound elastic, bouncing and lurching this way and that while remaining tethered to a simple pop structure. The past few years, perhaps burdened by leading rather than seconding in Sebadoh, perhaps succumbing to all the hype, perhaps developing a 250 pound ego dressed up in a lanky 150 pound frame, Barlow has managed to push away or disorient just about everyone around. Gaffney and then Loewenstein bolted Sebadoh, and Davis too has, perhaps amicably, perhaps not, left the Folk Implosion. Once a master of turning his feelings of alienation into pure noise pop gold, Barlow has managed to become the alienator; the mush pot complex that drives his art may have sparked the need to create in others more of the same feelings. "The original Folk Implosion, John Davis and I, played here five or six years ago and our record label at that time, Communion, was located here in San Francisco, so this is a little bittersweet," said a still somber Lou Barlow The New Folk Implosion, featuring Imaad Wasif on guitar and Russell Pollard on drums, is Barlow's attempt to forge on, and with the release of a new self-titled album, one must wonder if personality-wise, if not artistically, he is becoming more and more like his nemesis Mascis, pushing away everyone around, looking to lead the show and hence, suffering musically. The New Folk Implosion -- the band, the album, and especially the live experience -- is a plodding vision-impaired chunk of time space that is neither exciting, challenging or even revolting; it is just kind of there, barely. As the band lazed through new material such as "Brand New Skin" and "Fuse", one was struck, or perhaps more importantly not struck, by the lack of energy, that frenetic spark that made the original Folk Implosion so cheeky. Old favorites such as "Burning Paper" and "Insinuation", and the new "pearl" still retain some of that ecstatic pep, but overall, finger-snapping, toe-tapping pop worship rarely made its presence felt. Paint by numbers, the New Folk Implosion is second-rate and that is a damn shame for a musician, performer and songwriter of Barlow's caliber. Perhaps it is telling that Barlow has chosen to keep the Folk Implosion name in circulation while Sebadoh has seemingly become a useless word in a dead language. Trying to regain his spark, he is putting most of his energy into a side project, making the secondary primary, perhaps a manifestation of his personal need to feel alienated, albeit this time by alienating others, the audience included.

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