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February 22, 2006 at 1:14 pm #48786
New tricks for an old Dinosaur
Brad Quinn / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Whoever said "extinction is forever" was seriously underestimating Dinosaur Jr. More than 15 years since the original trio of guitarist-singer J. Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph last played together, the three are back on tour and, even more improbably, back in the studio recording new material.
"It was pretty unlikely," bandleader Mascis says of the reunion that began last year on a late-night U.S. TV program and continued on to a lengthy world tour. "Murph and Lou had wanted to do it, but I was holding out. I guess I wasn’t sure what the point of it would be."
But with several months of shows under his belt, Mascis has found a simple reason–apart from any financial benefits the reunion might bring–for Dinosaur Jr.’s resurrection.
"It’s getting to show people a good band that grew up playing together, a band that has a certain sound that’s pretty good," he says.
The original lineup’s sound, captured on Dinosaur Jr.’s first three albums, including the classic You’re Living All Over Me, was a mix of paint-peeling volume, lazy, drawling vocals somewhere between Neil Young and Huckleberry Hound, avant-garde noise, searing guitar solos and surprisingly catchy melodies.
In other words, Dinosaur Jr. were very much in step with the eclectic vanguard of 1980s pre-grunge U.S. alternative rock bands that included Sonic Youth, the Replacements, Meat Puppets, Husker Du, the Minutemen and R.E.M.
Unfortunately, while the members of Dinosaur Jr. matched musically, on a personal level, they proved incompatible.
In 1989, Barlow was told by his band mates that Dinosaur Jr. was calling it quits. He later learned on MTV news that he’d been fired instead.
While Mascis and Murph continued on with the band, the split with Barlow led to years of bad blood, much of it let to the rock press.
Barlow, who later went on to critical and commercial acclaim with lo-fi pioneers Sebadoh and Folk Implosion–even scoring a U.S. Top 40 hit with "Natural One" from the Larry Clark film Kids, by his own admission did more to fuel the antagonism, telling Mojo magazine in 2005: "I was the only one who expressed any ‘I hate you. I want to kill you’ stuff. J. never seemed to care, which drove me crazy."
Meanwhile, Dinosaur Jr. went on to reach its commercial zenith in the ’90s with accessible albums such as Green Mind and Where You Been, featuring increasingly polished production and sophisticated songwriting with distinctly American stylistic influences. The title of the group’s career-spanning best-of compilation Ear Bleeding Country pretty well describes the group’s second half.
With the addition of tour dates in 2006, the band apparently have been able to put the past behind them–even as they revisit it.
"Yeah, we’re still working on it." Mascis says of the group’s renewed relations. "I guess it gives us a chance to be nicer."
Although the members of Dinosaur Jr. may have mellowed with age in terms of their personal relationships, they have not let up on their sonic assault.
At a recent show in Ontario, Barlow reportedly took pity on fans holding their ears in the first few rows and passed out earplugs after the first song.
"I always think it’s funny that we still play really loud, and it’s often still kind of a revelation to people," Mascis says. "But it sounds really good, it’s just a different experience.
"There’s a reason why stuff used to sound a certain way, but still people don’t want to play really loud because the sound man will yell at them or something. It takes a certain amount of commitment [to play loud], because it’s not easy, everyone’s annoyed by it, and there’s a lot of equipment to carry, but then you see that there is a benefit to it when you got to the show."
Prior to their dates in Japan, the trio is taking time to record some new tracks for a possible new album, but Mascis is typically noncommittal on the subject.
"We’re trying to see how it goes," he says. "But it’s just really slow."
Given the choice of calling the Dinosaur Jr. reunion a coda, new beginning or continuation, Mascis opts for the latter, saying, "It’s just like riding a bike: We’re back to where we were."
Dinosaur Jr. will play Feb. 26-27, 7 p.m. at Ax in Shibuya, Tokyo, (03) 3444-6751; March 1, 7 p.m. at Namba Hatch in Osaka, (06) 6535-5569; March 2, 7 p.m. at Diamond Hall in Nagoya, (052) 936-6041.
(Feb. 23, 2006)
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