Inspired by the house shows where many artists took the first steps toward honing their craft, limited ticket small show tours have become the thing to do. From Pedro The Lion’s David Bazan, to Eric Bachman of Archers of Loaf, and Eef Barzelay of Clem Snide, singer-songwriters teetering on the edge of a legacy have scaled down the touring machine in favor of a more face-to-face approach. The cost to attend isn’t exactly basement show prices, but it’s an exclusive treat for the mega-fans. Normally these artists would charge similar amounts for full band shows at larger venues, so paying the same to get a much more personal experience is well worth it.
Last night’s show, in Bay View’s Southwest-themed retail shop URSA, was Lou Barlow’s third in Wisconsin on this tour alone. Most of the time, artists have to choose between Milwaukee and Madison. Hell, sometimes they choose neither. To Barlow’s credit, he chose both—and added another show in Viroqua! Hey Lou, why not play Cudahy while you’re at it? All joking aside, the crowd filed in promptly and moderately filled the store. With the initial observance of the lack of seating, it became clear the options for those in attendance would be to stand in one place for two-plus hours or sit on the floor. It’s wasn’t ideal, but also not a deal breaker. As the crowd found their spots, Barlow approached the mic and asked for a recommendation of a cover song to open the show. The crowdsourced setlist guidance would be Barlow’s go-to for the majority of the night. As he opened with Ratt’s “Round and Round,” one couldn’t help but think about how Barlow breathed new life into the well-worn rock song.
The entirety of the performance can easily be summed up by noting that Barlow knows which songs are his hits and he goes to them. Granted, a lot of the set came from requests, but the songs that he himself chose to play were winners. Barlow’s personal picks focused on the self-proclaimed “adult songs” from his most recent records. In fact, Barlow happily noted that he wrote the germs for four of his songs in the basement of the Eagles Ballroom while Dinosaur Jr. was on tour with Primus. The set fell heavily on old Sebadoh favorites, which is likely the most familiar source material for most who were in attendance. As a bit of a surprise, he worked Folk Implosion’s “Natural One” into the set, indisputably his most popular song. Then a cover of Bryan Adams’ “Run to You” for some reason? Sure, why not? Barlow was on a hot streak and he nailed that song, too.
While the songs were the reason everyone was there, the between-song banter was a delightful bonus. His stories of lurking around the Eagles Ballroom basement, working with Harmony Korine on the soundtrack for Kids, and the sculpted calves of a Hollywood actor at his child’s school were just the tip of the iceberg. Through it all, Barlow maintained the lovable self-deprecating anxiety that fans have come to know him for.
As the set worked its way toward the two-hour mark, a small segment of the crowd lost the plot. Between songs, the handful of people maintained their conversation that largely drowned out the Q&A going on. Barlow seemed a bit distracted by it, but didn’t lose his cool. Still, the chattering few being disrespectful to the artist didn’t ruin the night. Barlow’s plunge through his extensive back catalog, teamed with his storytelling, was worth every penny.