Codeine played The Sinclair – 11/8

Slowcore giants Codeine brought their 2023 reunion tour to Cambridge with support from Barbara Manning.

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A Codeine performance is a rare and beautiful thing. Active for just five years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the group’s brief catalog (two LPs and an EP, alongside a handful of other miscellaneous tracks) would come to be a revered and influential pillar of slow, sad and intimately heartfelt indie rock. Original drummer Chris Brokaw would go on to an illustrious career left of the dial, co-leading the great Come with singer/guitarist Thalia Zedek and taking part in numerous other projects (his replacement for the band’s final record, Rex and June of 44’s Doug Scharin, would do the same), but singer/bassist Stephen Immerwahr and guitarist John Engle largely departed the music world following the band’s dissolution.

Their first reunion, over a decade ago now, came as both a surprise and a delight to the band’s faithful. It was a run of reverent shows dedicated exclusively to old material that felt unlikely to be repeated. But here we are in 2023, where the esteemed Numero Group seemingly has the pull to make just about anything happen, watching Codeine perform once more. Numero was of course the catalyst behind the 2012 shows as well, having brought the band’s catalog back to the shelves with a lavish box set, and this year’s performances coincided with the label’s 20th anniversary celebration in Los Angeles (and last year’s unearthing of Dessau, an alternate-history version of the band’s second LP).

Counting LA and a warm-up show at Brooklyn’s Union Pool in February, I’ve managed to catch three of these Codeine Mk III shows, and come away from each grateful and moved. The band’s recordings are treasures, but the communal live experience elevates the songs even further. Though the material is glacial and delicate, the trio play with the physicality of a heavy band, emphasizing their quiet-loud dynamics with an expert sense of timing that’s no simple feat at such deliberate tempos (“[M]aybe it’s not as hard for one person to play slowly.” Engle told BrooklynVegan in an interview earlier this year, “Three people playing slowly is an entirely different matter.”) What they do requires an uncommon chemistry, and it’s been a privilege to witness it up close for each of these shows.

The setlist for last Wednesday’s Sinclair gig hewed close to the others the band’s played this year, touching on many of their essential songs (“D,” “Tom,” “Cave-In,” their stunning take on Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”) and closing with the B-side “Broken-Hearted Wine” (which Immerwahr called “a sweet song” for a sendoff). If I had to lodge one issue with these shows it’s that the flip-side to that one, “Realize,” didn’t make the cut this time around, but who’s to complain about gigs this magical? (Especially when they’re among the last – Codeine begin a short run of West Coast shows next month that will likely be the last we see of them for now – or ever).

Scroll below for a gallery from the Cambridge set, including a few from a freewheeling opening set by singer/songwriter Barbara Manning.