Music surrounds Anton Barbeau, here and abroad, today and always.
Barbeau, his mad-scientist mane contained somewhat by a beanie cap, strummed a guitar earlier this week at his father's funky east Sacramento bungalow. Other instruments, including several keyboards, a well-worn vintage drum kit and a 1980s Roland drum machine, sat nearby, awaiting Barbeau's attention.
"A lot of this stuff was in the basement, and I brought it up," said Barbeau, 45, his delicate features still youthful-looking beneath his silver-streaked blond hair.
Lately of Berlin and, before that, England, Barbeau the power-pop and psychedelic multi-instrumentalist and one of the best-known figures on the 1990s local music scene is back in his hometown for several weeks.
He's making music in Sacramento at the same rate he does everywhere. Almost constantly.
Barbeau will perform a solo show Saturday at downtown's Shine Coffeehouse, the first of several Sacramento and Bay Area gigs in the coming weeks. In between shows, he composes songs at his dad's house for his next album with his British band Three Minute Tease and a synth-pop record that will hark back to his own musical origins as a Sacramento teen in the 1980s.
Living in electronic- music-heavy Berlin has revived his interest in synthesizers, Barbeau said. But his legendary productivity had fallen off a bit there.
"I think all of us in Berlin have a bit of seasonal affective disorder," he said. Though Sacramento temperatures have been freezing, the sunshine has done wonders for his songwriting. He wrote three songs in his first four days in town.
Barbeau hasn't lived at his dad's house for years, but mementos of his Sacramento music career line the walls and also speak to Barbeau's deep musical roots here. A flier from an old Barbeau show hangs next to a painting of Barbeau by Kepi, onetime Groovie Ghoulies frontman.
Though Barbeau never broke out like 1990s Sacramento bands Cake and Deftones, he was in the thick of the scene in the mid-'90s, winning Sammie awards, like Cake, for his inventive alternative rock.
"I played with everybody" in Sacramento, Barbeau said. Cake bassist Gabriel Nelson played on Barbeau's albums. In 2009, Barbeau wrote and produced the debut album of Allyson Seconds, wife of punk musician Kevin Seconds and a longtime friend.
Barbeau worked on the album in Sacramento and in England. Home to Barbeau's musical heroes the Beatles and pop-psychedelic artist Robyn Hitchcock, England always beckoned him.
He began going over for gigs early in this millennium. Then he met his partner, Lorna, a scientist who worked at Cambridge, and moved there.
"Sacramento isn't the same without him," Nelson wrote via email this week. (He was en route from New York to Sacramento). "He writes some excellent lyrics and melodies and is one of the most unique entertainers ever."
Barbeau has hooked up with English musicians the way he once did Sacramento players. In 2011, he made a record and toured with Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor, from Hitchcock's band the Soft Boys. Together, they are Three Minute Tease. Barbeau also toured last year with British alternative rocker, author and Barbeau kindred spirit Julian Cope.
"There are just so many people to play with in England," Barbeau said.
There was no big plan to change his career by moving to England, Barbeau said, or to Berlin, where he and Lorna relocated a year ago after he found musical opportunities too scarce and the atmosphere too heavy in Cambridge.
His career has lacked master plans or pivotal, singular moments, Barbeau said.
"I wish for that, in a way: Where you get hit by lightning and suddenly want to be a concert pianist," Barbeau said. "But the more I do what I do, it just encompasses everything I have always done."
If that summation is a bit elliptical, so is Barbeau. Just not so much as you might recall.
In Sacramento, Barbeau was known for shows that sometimes dipped into performance art, in which Barbeau was "part comedian, part monologuist," Allyson Seconds said. She was always fully entertained, Seconds said, but some did not know what to make of them.
Songs such as "The Banana Song" and "The Cockroach Song" and Barbeau's general lyrical fancy furthered a reputation for eccentricity only partially deserved.
Barbeau has written a lot of songs, of all sorts, including some simply arranged, heartfelt songs on Seconds' album "Bag of Kittens."
"He was the songwriter, but the album was meant to explore my voice," Seconds said. "He listened to me, and compromised. He was really open. Some songwriters aren't."
The 2011 Three Minute Tease album, written by Barbeau, contains the song titles "Love Is an Onion" and "Dust Beneath My Wings." Yet the songs are not wacky.
The lilting "Dust" is highlighted by Barbeau's vocals more open and grittier than when he was more intentionally nasal and Brit-pop with vocal and cello backing by the British band Stornoway and universal lyrics like "love it's the reason we are here."
Barbeau he has made an effort to be more lyrically minimalist, he said. The Three Minute Tease record, though touched by psychedelia and whimsy, also is "fully accessible" pop, he said.
"I am not trying to be obscure or obtuse."
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Shine coffeehouse, 1400 E St., Sacramento