Okay, so the photo is from Friday, but still. More photos here.
On Saturday night, J Mascis and Co. took the stage with unassuming glory, and after taking their sweet time dorking around with their instruments, Mascis resolved the unformed chaos of their initial soundcheck with a plaintive little piffle of a riff. The band dropped out, Mascis approached the mic, we were suddenly struck with the oddity that is “Bulbs of Passion.”
“Bulbs” is a strange song to use as a set-opener: it’s from their 1985 self-titled debut, and, at first listen, bears few of the sonic watermarks of Dino’s catalog. But as the song kicked in, and Mascis hit the distortion pedal, letting loose chunky shards of power chord bliss, it was clear that songs like this were what made a young Dino stick out so severely in the world of mid-‘80s hardcore. There’s the juxtaposition of quiet introspective verses with thunderingly punishing choruses; and more importantly, there’s the endless soloing, a trait of Dino’s music that would eventually make Mascis a guitar god to a generation of rock fans that didn’t think that they even wanted one.
Dinosaur Jr. recordings are dense, layered affairs, with piled on vocals and guitar squalls that create a rich thicket, teeming with sounds mixing in and out; which means that live, the band is always going to come off as extra unpolished, extra unhinged. If you go to a Dinosaur Jr. show to see Mascis indulge in the multilayered vocals that adorn the albums, you may be sorely disappointed. In fact, in a live setting his vocals often come across as a perfunctory chore that must be accomplished in fulfillment of the song—partly because he’s a reclusive frontman who doesn’t seize the mic and use his singing role to connect with the audience, but mostly because in a live setting, every Dinosaur Jr. song is rejiggered to be nothing more than an excuse to get to the soloing already.
So let’s talk about the solos: Tonight, as with any previous time I’ve seen Dinosaur Jr. and/or Mascis solo, the solos were exquisite and exquisitely drawn out. Every song hits a point where Mascis kicks it into overdrive and just rips; the band then duly pummels those moments into oblivion and you never want them to stop. A run-through of new tune “I Don’t Wanna Go There” (off of this spring’s Farm) was a perfect example: The song itself is a downer, a mid-tempo vortex of ennui and bad feelings ground through a relatively uninspired main riff; but live, the song soars as the band tossed its script out the window and just bludgeoned the song into the floor with an abandon that was beautiful to witness, borderline lusty.
Which is why, by the way, it’s so beautiful to see and hear Lou Barlow back on bass. Sure, it’s nice that he and J reconciled their issues and whatnot; but more importantly, Barlow’s approach to bass, his baleful wandering around the riff and the melody, ever searching for alternate paths on their periphery, is what always gave the original trio’s work its distinctive edge. It’s like seeing them at their peak—and when Dino are at their peak, it’s just three guys surrounded by their own mad noise, blazing their own little world into being. And you’re glad to be in it.
PREVIOUSLY: Dueling Dinos, Night One
SLIDESHOW: Dinosaur Jr. live at the Middle East (night one), photos by Nellie Sweet.