The last time Dinosaur Jr.â€™s original line-up roared was in 1990, back when the first George Bush was in charge and underground rock was, well, underground. Plenty has changed in a decade and a half, but hereâ€™s one thing that hadnâ€™t when the original line-up took the stage at the LA club Spaceland a week ago Saturday to play the first show of a reunion tour thatâ€™s positioned to be this yearâ€™s equivalent of last yearâ€™s Pixies trek: Lou Barlow, J. Mascis, and Murph rocked. Hard.
On the heels of Mergeâ€™s reissues of their first three albums, the band focused on that material, ignoring songs from discs recorded after Barlow departed to form Sebadoh and then Murph left. The set opened with "Gargoyle," from Dinosaur Jr., and included fan favorites like "Lung" and "Freakscene." The trio played for nearly an hour and a half in a comeback that was surprising less for what it was â€” solid â€” than for what it wasnâ€™t â€” a disaster. Barlow and Mascis, after all, had had a notorious bad relationship that ended with a major feud. Barlow put his not so friendly feelings toward Mascis on the line in the Sebadoh song "Gimme Indie Rock," and though Mascis enjoyed some commercial success with his later Dinosaur Jr. releases, he often seemed to be looking at Barlowâ€™s rise to indie-icon status from the sidelines and planning a next move that never came. Watching them interact on the same stage was like listening in on two diplomats in the process of signing a peace treaty. At first it felt surreal, but a handshake at the end of the set seemed to seal the deal, which includes a national tour thatâ€™ll hit Avalon on July 15. Midway through, after thanking the audience for coming, the usually dour Mascis looked to his left and smiled at Barlow.
After that, the pre-grunge power chords, thudding drums, and melodic bass lines were almost irrelevant, though the aggressive cover of the Cureâ€™s "Just like Heaven" could be a modern rock hit today. What mattered most was that the trio looked and sounded 15 years younger, Mascisâ€™s gray hair and Murphâ€™s wrinkles disappearing in overwhelming elation as the 300 people crammed into Spaceland sang along to every song.