Dinosaur Jr. at The Forum 8/6/05
They say it takes a lot to get J Mascis out of bed. Well, someone must have offered him a real cash prize because not only as he come over to England for tour dates, including this weekend's Download Festival, but he's brought the original line-up of Dinosaur Jr. with him! I'd just about given up hope of ever seeing Dinosaur Jr. live, and certainly never thought J Mascis and Lou Barlow would bury the hatchet and perform together again. Yet, here they are, two of the musicians most influential to me, shuffling on stage as if they were completely inconsequential!
True to slacker form, J, Lou and Murph step out and spend what seems like an eternity tuning up. Did the sound tech people not just do all that for them? Yet, by the time they're plugged in and bursting into a terrifying rendition of 'Gargoyle', all doubts are immediately dispelled. This show really did lay down the gauntlet for all reunion shows. Unlike the Pixies show I saw last year, which to me felt forced, uncomfortable and mostly perfunctory (although I concede almost everyone disagreed with me) - this was energised, persuasive and very, very loud. Subtlety was never really a Dinosaur trait and here they are, looking older (is J's long hair greying, or just dyed blond?) but still every bit as visceral and aggressive. Lou hammers seven shades of shit out of his bass, playing with almost total disregard for technique. J attacks his guitar in numerous lengthy solos, which work wonderfully because his guitar playing is paradoxically both unnervingly unhinged and musically considered. Murph is also an absolutely terrific drummer, and plays with thunderous enthusiasm tonight. Lou Barlow genuinely seemed to be having fun (unusual for such a famously, err, reflective chap) and J even seemed to smile a couple of times, even if his rapport with the audience didn't really go beyond the occasional strange whistle or grunt.
As this was the original line-up, there was unsurprisingly no material post-Bug. It would have been great to hear the original band reconfigure some of J Mascis' later material, but not really something surprising or worth complaining about. From those pivotal early albums, we get just about everything we could ask for in a necessarily brief but thoroughly invigorating set. Almost unbelievably, this was the first time 'Little Fury Things' had been performed live with Lou on bass, despite it being one of the most popular songs from the first Dinosaur era. This lent it a renewed thrill and intensity that went beyond mere nostalgia. Other highlights included a swampy 'No Bones', a savage blast through 'In A Jar' (dispensed with quickly, surprisingly early in the set) and kinetic takes on 'Forget The Swan' and 'Repulsion'.
The closing moments seemed to come from nowhere. Suddenly, they're playing 'Freak Scene', one of alternative rock's finest moments and a pillar of proto-grunge. J Mascis messes up the stripped down bit completely, adding humour to the 'don't let me fuck up will you...' line, but it doesn't matter. It sounds committed and fiery nonetheless. It seemed that they might be too cool for encores, but they return with a full blooded performance of their interpretation of The Cure's 'Just Like Heaven' and a fractious, stormy 'Does It Float'. Despite Lou having savaged his bass to such an extent that strings have broken, he straps on a new bass, and they finish with a determinedly sludgy 'Mountain Man', which seems to encapsulate all the messy, untutored power that this remarkable band command.
Older, but seemingly wiser, Dinosaur Jr. still rocked righteously. As I left the venue I heard someone say 'I'm so glad it wasn't shit'. I'll second that - reunion exercises can be dour and unpleasant, this one was something special. Download is in for a treat.