MP3: Dinosaur Jr. – I Want You To Know from Farm (2009)
MP3: Dinosaur Jr – Freak Scene from Bug (1988)
Dinosaur Jr. are inarguably one of the central progenitors of the 90s rock archetype. Few other groups have such a distinct sound that is so closely linked to a precise era in collective memory. And like most pioneers of a sound, the legions of artists they inspired received all the attention (any number of Dinosaur Jr. influenced 90s alt-rock bands, eg- Nirvana). After Merge’s re-release of their early material, they finally seem to be getting their slice of the popularity pie.
But they do little to dispel the notion that bands break-up for a reason, and rarely reform out of some intense desire to create music together again. Look no farther than their most recent release Beyond, or their set list drenched in classics, for more hints on their intent in regrouping. There’s nothing new here. Further, any number of times I could almost feel Murph, Lou and J pulling apart, each taking their own parts into separate realms without considering the song as an entity, and seeming to forget to play as a band. This persistent inability to lock-in a tempo at first try was distracting, at times frustrating. The other distraction in their live set was the absolute ridiculous dominance of J Mascis’ uber-amped guitars. Basically drowning out everything beneath a sea of big, distorted guitar melodies as he rained down riffs from his 3 massive Marshall stacks. There is a better balance to be had while still achieving that guitar-rich sound, but they really didn’t bother to find it.
Despite these drawbacks, Dinosaur Jr. were good, and at times great. J Mascis’ trademark guitar squalls were in full and massive effect, resonating melodies into your marrow. Fantastically tight drumming from Murph and really vivacious bass lines courtesy of Lou Barlow. But ultimately, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. Fortunately, opener Mike Watt absolutely blew me away.
Watt, a career bassist who helped found Firehose and the Minutemen, was having the time of his life up there. He absolutely mauls the bass, manhandling it to create all manner of tones and styles, from punk to free-jazz to funk. Unlike the easily precision-dated sounds of Dinosaur Jr., Watt created ferocious punk-blends that still feel fresh and new and exciting today, at times his frenzied freakouts make me wonder if he shares some musical kinship with weirdo-psych, avant-garde legend Captain Beefheart. Watt was equally comfortable stepping aside and letting his Missingmen or guest-cameos from Dinosaur Jr. guys shine, always making sure the track took precedence over any individual insstrument. His work is deserving of a long legend and legacy.