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Live Review
Sky Ferreira vs Sebadoh - Sydney, March 2014

Sky Ferreira vs Sebadoh Sydney March 2014

Reviewed By
Courtney Sanders
26th March 2014


Sky Ferreira - Tuesday 18th March, Oxford Art Factory
Sebadoh - Saturday 22nd March, Factory Floor (Matinee Show)

Last week in Sydney two gigs, together, brought up big and expansive questions of authenticity in music. Sky Ferreira played on Tuesday night at Oxford Art Factory and Sebadoh played a matinee show the following Saturday at Factory Floor, which was probably a chronologically inappropriate arrangement. Lou Barlow and co., in their primary sonic vehicle are cornerstones of slacker alt-rock whereas Sky Ferreira, in her incarnation as a model, actress singer, lifts from a good looking combination of Sebadoh-era indie, Riot Grrl, and ‘80’s power ballads. The latter probably should have followed the former.

Sky Ferreira is a good performer. Her vocals are unequivocally exceptional live, and she sasses from stage right to left to turn the room on - albeit a room of very fashionable members of Gen-Y who are very fashionably aware of why they’re there. Which is the problem: not her fans, rather the reason for their fandom. Firstly, she became infamous as a BFF to Michael Jackson, model to Hedi Slimane and Marc Jacobs and boyfriend of DIIV frontman Zachary Cole-Smith before she released any music. Secondly, she represents the relatively modern ability for a culture trend (in Ferreira’s case the Nineties Revival) to emerge without the social or political significance from whence it came.

On stage Ferreira is tiny, and - wearing Wayfarer sunglasses (inside, at night) and a striped t-shirt – she resembles a kind of indie-rock / Kathleen Hanna hybrid; the latter’s look lifted from early-era Bikini Kill, a band she started when – as a recent documentary about Hanna, The Punk Singer, stipulates - somebody told her she should start a punk band if she wanted anyone to listen the feminist messages she wanted to send. Ferreira’s band members are similarly fashioned, and also look extremely excited to play the parts that Ariel Rechstaid (Vampire Weekend) and Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) helped Ferreira to pen and produce for her recently-released album Night Time, My Time (highlights include ‘Boys’, ‘You’re Not the One’, ‘Ain’t Your Right’). But just as that album’s cover was photographed by surrealist filmmaker Gasper Noe, the vibe of this performance is of a carefully constructed scene: the band members are straight from central casting, the beautiful frontwoman with the controversial background is chosen to look a very specific way, and to sell tickets.

Perhaps Ferreira is indicative of a generation who, alienated by their inability to change the status quo, are genuinely interested in image and nostalgia, and that’s fine. But the likes of aforementioned artists Vampire Weekend and Blood Orange (D.I.Y band du jour Parquet Courts spring to mind here too) manage to marry their idolatry for the past with their concerns for the future and, I would argue, are all the better for it. Unfortunately, all of the eyeliner in the world can’t make Ferreira’s derivative songs about – yep – ‘Boys’ as historically important as the work of musicians like Hanna (or even Vampire Weekend or Blood Orange). Furthermore, the fact that her shtick lifts so heavily from movements that fundamentally shaped our social, political and cultural landscape is kinda reprehensible.

Sebadoh didn’t give as much to the Third Wave as Hannah either (arguably nobody did), but their brand of alt-rock (and the alt-rock of their time) is concerned with discussing a different kind of alienation - as Stereogum put it: the “sexual confusion, angst and agoraphobia” of young adulthood. I, like Sky Ferreira, missed bands like Sebadoh the first time around, but Saturday night’s matinee show – held because their night-time show sold out - was as good of an indication of any that a lot of people didn’t.

The crowd is middle-aged, which they acknowledge by heartily – which really is the best word to define their enthusiasm; everybody at this gig is heart-warmingly into this show, in a polite, community-oriented way I’ve seldom seen - engaging with Lou Barlow’s banter about getting older, which pleasantly perforates the entire set. He describes the matinee format as “good for people with kids because, you know, sitters”, before introducing one of the first songs I hear (apparently matinee shows performed by bands who formed three decades ago start On Time) as being about “dropping my seven year old daughter off at primary school”. This signified the performance of a series of new songs – because “we know you don’t want to hear the new, boring stuff but we don’t care” from the band’s 2013 album (their first in 14 years) Defend Yourself, including set highlight “I Will” (apparently inspired by a Royal Headache song).

Like a bunch of dudes who listened to Bakesale on repeat at the same high school, the crowd pleasantly declare their favourite songs - the tracks that define their defining life moments. Barlow, Jason Loewenstein and Bob D'Amico (of the Fiery Furnaces) oblige, and demonstrate their masterful, timeless range by interweaving hardcore favourites (‘Drugs’, ‘S. Soup’), sentimental classics (‘Arbitrary High’, ‘Not too Amused’) and the aforementioned new singles together, all-the-while acting like a bunch of likeable stoner outsiders, immortalized by the likes of Freaks & Geeks and Dazed and Confused. While band and audience alike have left their awkward phases far behind them, they sure as hell still remember what it felt like. Barlow nicely rounds out this nostalgia by declaring: “we sing about drugs rather than being on them now…but if you have any marijuana, please give it to us”.

The crowd got to hear the songs they experienced and navigated their lives to, and regardless of where they’ve come from, for an hour-and-a-half, they may as well have all grown up together - that’s the profundity authentic music has. I kinda doubt Ferreira’s Oxford Art Factory crowd will be similarly celebrating in thirty years’ time.

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