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    Dinosaur Jr
    The Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA

    By Steve Abercrombie

    The Variety Playhouse in Atlanta seemed like an unusual place for a fossil digging expedition but the unexpected reunion of Dinosaur Jr was exciting enough to even pull Indiana Jones out of retirement. The reunion came as quite a surprise considering the harsh circumstances that led to the original trio breaking up in 1989. The internal strife within the group was well documented in Michael Azzerrad’s book on the 80’s underground music scene Our Band Could be Your Life.

    The original Dinosaur Jr was made up of J Mascis on guitar/vocals, Lou Barlow on bass/vocals and Emmett Jackson Murphy III a.k.a. “Murph� on drums. The group came out of Amherst, Massachusetts in the mid-eighties and eventually caught the ear of the independent label SST. The band had its roots in the blossoming hardcore punk scene of the time but also had elements of singer-songwriter introspectiveness and classic rock improvisation. Dinosaur Jr brought a whole new set of influences into the underground music scene including the long forbidden extended guitar solo! Unlike some of the typical hardcore aficionados, Dinosaur Jr openly embraced classic rockers like Black Sabbath and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. This openness to other kinds of music allowed Dinosaur to grow into something that would attract many people outside of the punk rock scene.

    The original lineup recorded three records, Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me, and Bug before Lou Barlow left the group in 1989; after which Mascis moved the group to a major label and released 4 more CD’s before retiring the Dinosaur moniker in 1997. J spent the following years playing with The Fog which had a rotating cast of musicians including bassists Mike Watt and Dave Schools. Lou Barlow went on to head the extremely prolific Indie bands Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. Earlier this year, Lou Barlow released the first CD under his own name, the beautiful Emoh. All three CD’s from Dinosaur Jr’s original lineup were recently re-released by Merge Records and provide the basis for the current tour’s set lists.

    The concert in Atlanta was the second night of the reunion tour making it’s way all across the country including a major stop in Chicago at this year’s Lollapalooza. Tour support was provided by the two more experimental groups. The Magik Markers and Bardo Pond, both of which performed short but representative sets before Dinosaur Jr hit the stage just after 10 P.M. I had seen J Mascis play with his post Dinosaur group The Fog and was prepared for a night of high volume and the band did not let me down. The group often employed the phrase “Ear bleeding country� to describe its sound and it is quite appropriate. Although the song structures are not very different from folk and classic rock songs, its the intense volume and cascade of effects that gives the Dinosaur its own sound.

    The song “Gargoyle� from their debut disc made an appropriate opener with Lou taking lead vocals and Mascis adding some nice harmonies in addition to a couple of fantastic guitar solos. It was apparent that all of the ego driven competition from the early days had gone and what we had now was a great band having a lot of fun playing their old songs and creating a sense of closure. After a quick tune up J then kicked into “In a Jar� from Your Living All Over Me. “In a jar the scars are plain to see� seemed to sum up the bad vibes that surrounded the group prior to the dissolution and how they band’s problems always seemed to come out on stage.

    Even though the material was from a time period when the individuals in the band were unable to communicate with each other all three members seemed really connected at this show. Lou was bouncing around and obviously having a blast playing the bass and Mascis who is notoriously withdrawn even thanked the audience a few times. Murph’s drumming was the glue that held it all together even during the most insane guitar freak outs and I felt like a little girl when I caught one of his drumsticks. “Kracked� was the next offering and featured some awesome wah-wah pedal work from J Mascis. It was around this song that I realized another of Dinosaur Jr’s contributions to the underground music scene, effects pedals. Before Dinosaur Jr, most Hardcore/Indie bands simply relied on distortion, but Mascis and Barlow colored their instruments with wah-wah, phasers, flangers and numerous other effects to create a wash of sound that went on to influence many of their contemporaries, like Sonic Youth and The Cure. It was easy to see why this group could appeal to both punk rockers and hippies through its mixture of trippy sound effects with Hardcore’s emotional intensity. Other highlights from the set included “Forget the Swan,� with a huge swirl of guitar flange that threatened to suck the Variety Playhouse into a black hole, and the set closer “The Lung� which features a great tension and release bit at the end alternating between a delicate melodic section and intense shredding! After a brief break the band returned for an interesting cover of The Cure’s “Just like Heaven� where everything rides along nice until the chorus which had Lou screaming “You! Soft and lonely.�

    “Freak Scene� came next and the mellow feeling crowd got a little rowdier and I participated in my first mosh pit since the 90’s. Albeit it was a rather gentle mosh pit, with people actually being mindful not to hurt each other (no complaints about that!). The Sabbathesque riff of “Sludgefeast� brought the three song encore to an end. Dinosaur Jr then treated the crowd to a rare double encore with a second return to play Barlow’s “Does it Float.� So the evening ends with Lou singing a song just as it had begun. This song had an almost R.E.M. type of jangle until the mid section when it dissolves into frantic screaming. A brief spacey section followed by more freaking out and then both Lou and J put down their guitars and walked off the stage letting them squeal and hum for a few more minutes before the house lights came up.

    SETLIST: Gargoyle / In a Jar / Kracked / No Bones / Repulsion / Tarpit / Forget the Swan / Yeah We Know / Raisans / Bulbs of Passion / Budge / The Lung ENCORE#1: Just Like Heaven / Freak Scene / Sludgefeast

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