Walking into the Urban Lounge Sunday night just before Dinosaur Jr. started their gig, it wasn’t hard to figure out which side of stage that band leader J Mascis would be holding down.
Three Marshall stacks were set up into a mini-wall on the left, with another stack set up on the side to face Mascis’s microphone stand. A notoriously terse interview not given to much between-song banter, Mascis has managed to create a musical man-cave on the band’s tour, while still being able to see his longtime bandmates spread out to his left—drummer Murph and bassist/vocalist Lou Barlow.
As anyone who has seen Dinosaur Jr. over the course of the band’s decades together, Mascis makes good use of those Marshalls. Not only is he an advocate of the louder-is-better school of rock musician; he’s also one of the guys who made indie-rock safe for bombastic, lengthy guitar solos, ala obvious influences like Neil Young.
Sunday’s packed show offered ample proof that Mascis hasn’t lost a step, or a decibel, even as his long hair has turned completely grey. He tore off tasty guitar jam after tasty guitar jam all night long in a set that leaned heavily on the band’s excellent new album, I Bet the Sky.
Dinosaur Jr. opened with the last song on the new album, “See It On Your Side,” a tune that opens with a lengthy guitar part well before Mascis’s laconic croak enters the mix. The band seemed to stretch the song well past the seven-minute running time from the album on Sunday. I wasn’t timing it, but I would bet the first song hit the 10-minute mark before the band wound it down to a conclusion.
At times, it wasn’t easy to tell when a song would finish or end. Such is the reverence for Mascis’s guitar work that the simple act of between-song tuning had the crowd eagerly trying to pick out what song the band was about to start. Barlow, a cantankerous sort himself, familiar to many for leading Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, chatted here and there between songs, thanking the crowd and cracking wise. But for the most part, the band was all business.
And that was just fine with me. New songs like “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know,” “Watch The Corners” and “What Was That” deserved the focus the band put on them. And older songs like the beloved “Freak Scene,” “Start Choppin” and “Feel The Pain” fit right in alongside the new material. They also thrilled the crowd, much of which was old enough to remember when Dinosaur Jr. actually had videos on MTV and songs on commercial “alternative” radio.
Those days are long gone, but the band feels as vibrant as ever. Since Mascis’s reunion with Barlow and Murph after more than a decade apart, Dinosaur Jr. has been putting out incredibly strong albums—all the more impressive considering Mascis as also been releasing solo material and Barlow’s been touring as a solo performer and with Sebadoh between Dino Jr. jaunts.
It’s still funny for me to see Barlow essentially as a Mascis sidekick in Dinosaur Jr.; I’m enough of a Sebadoh fan to always want to hear more Barlow songs, no matter what the environment. He took over lead vocals a few times, as he typically does about once an album for Dinosaur Jr. The new “Rude” is an energetic winner, and he delivered a song called “Training Ground” that he introduced as a song from he and Mascis’s first band together, Deep Wound.
While the band didn’t chat much, they certainly seemed in good spirits Sunday night, and the fans on hand were clearly happy with what they were hearing. The between-song cheers only increased in volume through the night, as if to compete with Mascis’s ringing guitar chords and distorted fuzz.
Give and take is always good, both within the band, and between the band and the fans. Dinosaur Jr. seems to have it working right now. Here’s hoping it continues.