July 16, 2005 at 1:14 pm #48200
Loud, Alternative and Still Definitive
By KELEFA SANNEH
Published: July 16, 2005
Those loud and melancholy songs, those monumental guitar lines and mumbly vocals: Dinosaur Jr. helped create the sound that would define the alt-rock boom of the 1990’s. But so what? On Thursday night, the three founding members – the singer and guitarist J. Mascis, the bassist Lou Barlow, the drummer Murph – came to Central Park to put on a glorious show, and to remind fans of an older connection.
You might call Dinosaur Jr. one of the first great 90’s alt-rock bands, and you might also call it one of the last great 1980’s hard-core punk bands. As teenagers, Mr. Mascis and Mr. Barlow made a breakneck racket with a group called Deep Wound. But they evidently loved the tradition of hard core enough to warp it.
With Dinosaur Jr., they turned up the volume while slowing down the tempos; instead of an angry bark, there was a Neil Young-ish twang. Mr. Mascis’s guitar often came unglued from the rhythm section; his chords often floated instead of chugging; his solos were vast and wobbly. Hard core was built to express furious certainty, and they remade it as a music of furious uncertainty.
This reunion tour was strictly devoted to the albums "Dinosaur," "You’re Living All Over Me" and "Bug," from 1985, 1987 and 1988, respectively. (All three were reissued this year by Merge Records; the second two still sound great.) Onstage, the members never acknowledged what followed this trilogy: an unhappy split, after which Mr. Mascis continued on with the band while Mr. Barlow led his own group, Sebadoh.
One of the night’s first songs was "In a Jar," which begins with one of Mr. Barlow’s energetic bass lines, along with Mr. Mascis’s idea of a pickup line. He mumbled, "I’ll be grazing by your window, please come pat me on the head/ Just wanna find out what you’re nice to me for." Like many Dinosaur Jr. songs, this one is made up of parts that don’t quite fit neatly together, and the most violent transitions were announced with equally violent fills from Murph.
This band was once famous for its absurdly loud live shows (Mr. Mascis seems intrigued by the transformative power of loudness), but you can’t make too much noise on a stage in the middle of Central Park. No matter: even in the most hummable songs, like "Freak Scene," Mr. Mascis’ sudden flare-ups sounded savage as ever.
The night ended with "Chunks," a longtime live favorite; the song was written by the short-lived Boston hard-core band Last Rights. It was a fearsome song by a fearsome band; one version of the original vinyl single had a picture of Hitler on the cover. But on Thursday night, it sounded like neither a lark nor a digression. The chugging guitar was a gleeful acknowledgment of the music that came before those three albums. And that shouted vow – "You couldn’t stop us even if you tried/ We’ll be together until we die!" – was a wry acknowledgment of everything that happened after.
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