December 3, 2005 at 1:25 pm #48601
Dinosaur Jr. in Ann Arbor, 11.28.05
November 30, 2005
It was only fifteen years ago when a "special intimate show" by J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph – the original and greatest line-up of Dinosaur Jr. – could very well have culminated in onstage fisticuffs. But times have changed, and as demonstrated by J’s fellow U-Mass alumnus Frank Black and the Pixies, the last few years have been kind to the alt-rock reunion set. A cynic might say the price was finally right for Mascis and Barlow to bury their hatchet…but if there were any cynics left in the Blind Pig when the notoriously volatile threesome hit the stage Monday night, they were eating their words within minutes. Simply put, this was an awe-inspiring show; one which lived up to the band’s prehistoric moniker not with tarpit-bound irrelevance, but with a primal and monumental ferocity.
Opening with the now two-decade-old "Gargoyle," Dinosaur made good use of J’s and Lou’s Marshall stacks right from the start, letting loose tidal waves of pure volume while the club’s P.A. struggled to stay afloat. Somehow, though, this lopsided amp-to-vocals ratio fit the band’s approach; Mascis’s trademark drawl sounded almost subliminal, while the occasional howls from Barlow’s side of the stage seemed paradoxically more intense muffled under layers of guitar noise. Besides, Dinosaur Jr. never were much of a vocalist’s band. They were, and remain, indie rock for closet guitar geeks – and in that respect they were undoubtedly in top form. Virtually motionless in his position stage right, his lanky curtain of hair now turned almost entirely gray, J spat out one fiery solo after another, stretching songs to twice their recorded length and hammering through "Sludgefeast" with a viciousness that made it sound even more like a Sabbath Bloody Sabbath outtake than usual. Lou and Murph weren’t exactly slouching, either. By song number four ("Lose"), the drummer had stripped to the waist, while Barlow played with such intensity throughout, he ended up snapping a bass string mid-set. Together, the trio were unstoppable as they barrelled through a marathon of visceral classics from their first two albums, with a handful of B-sides and stand-out tracks from 1988’s Bug thrown in for good measure. "Freak Scene" killed, of course. But of even more interest was "The Wagon" from post-Barlow record Green Mind, which received its live debut at the Blind Pig; its effortless, unexpected performance cementing at long last that Dinosaur Jr. are still a musical force to be reckoned with.
And fifteen years on, they’re still the most unlikely rock band on the planet: J, the same introverted guitar player you probably kicked around garage bands with in high school; Lou, the same bookish misfit who just discovered hardcore punk; and Murph, the Ringo of college rock, probably still the only one in the band you’d actually want to know in person. This reunion isn’t just notable because of its patent improbability – though that alone should make you want to rush out and buy tickets while you can. Seeing Dinosaur Jr. in person reminds one of the massive influence they’ve had on alternative music in the last two decades…and just how boring indie rock is without them. Sure, their sound served as the blueprint for basically all ’90s guitar rock, while Mascis’s writing taught Kurt Cobain and others pretty much everything they needed to know about the art of the apathetic love song. But the bands to follow Dinosaur and do it well are sorely outnumbered by those who merely took away from the seminal group their slacker sensibilities and lack of stage presence. In short, these originators are still the best; and like any great reunion, this one has done nothing but cement that fact. Dinosaur Jr. are back…and with a live show as good as this, here’s hoping they stick around for a while.
Reviewed by Zach Hoskins
Photos by Megan Giddings
This review is also posted on The Modern Pea Pod.
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