Dinosaur Jr at Bluebird Theater, 10/15/12
Dinosaur Jr last night at the Bluebird Theater
In a show full of strong performances, one of the biggest surprises came when, toward the end of the set, Lou Barlow said that he and J Mascis had been in a band called Deep Wound. "We played the Ramones at triple speed," Barlow explained. "We didn't take drugs like you losers. We sought redemption in fast music." Barlow joked like this often last night. The tune that followed was "Training Ground," a song with a ferocious outburst of teen rage. Reminiscent of the Crucifucks' "Democracy Spawns Bad Taste," it was convincing in the middle of a sixteen-song show that never really relented.
J Mascis and Murph of Dinosaur Jr at Bluebird Theater
Playing songs from most of its albums across the last three decades, Barlow, who did most of the talking, told us the band had a new album out and that they were going to play songs from it, including one with him on vocals with "Rude," a faster-paced, all but punk song. Throughout the show, Mascis displayed his masterful control of feedback, and he often seemed to be playing a solo inside a solo even without using a loop. Mascis's playing tonight was almost Hendrix-like in the way that he would go way beyond the boundaries of blues and rock into alien territories of sound outside of genre.
Barlow and Murph seemed to have that compression and release dynamic going to a fine degree, as Barlow played gritty, melodic bass lines with an almost childlike enthusiasm, jumping around and raising his arm higher than most bass players to bring his pick down to strike a bass chord. Mascis's voice is famously semi-detached, but it sure didn't sound like that much here. You could feel the heartache and disappointment in those songs more clearly than on the recordings. With the music so vivid and visceral around the singing, it felt like the proper context for the music and gave it that defiant energy that lets you work through that stuff more easily.
"Feel the Pain" sounded like these guys have been taking their vitamins every day since their reunion. The crowd responded in kind, with people jumping about in time with the song's eccentric dynamic gyrations. At the end, even J spoke up and said, "Hey, thanks a lot!" more heartily than we'd been led to expect. In the last part of the set, between songs, J set in motion atmospheric bits of soundscaping that Murph and/or Barlow would join in as they pleased.
Murph and Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr at Bluebird Theater
"Freak Scene" kicked into full gear immediately, and it's always refreshing to see this most melodic of Dinosaur songs bursting with raw energy. In the middle break, Murph dropped back against his throne as though he was trying to rein in a wild horse or a locomotive. In some ways, that's what he'd been doing. But then he came right back in -- literally without missing a beat -- like trying to hop a fast-moving freight train. Murph has clearly had a lot of practice at this. Still, to see that kind of precision and timing from someone who took an interlude in a song with such a hectic pace was impressive.
The main set ended with one of the band's greatest songs, "Forget the Swan." It was interesting to see Barlow strum his bass on the neck while his left hand fretted lower notes, only to see the hand position change accordingly when striking high notes. At one point, Mascis swapped out his guitar, and after a quick tune, he fired off a strong lead in the middle. This sounds like such a minute ridiculous detail, but it was truly breathtaking to see. At the end, it sounded like Barlow teased a bit of Folk Implosions work for the film Kids and "Nothing Gonna Stop." But whatever it was, it just brought the whole fourteen-song set to a good, bright but broody end.
Dinosaur didn't make us wait long for an encore. When they all came back on, Barlow introduced J and Murph by their full proper names and then said, "And I'm Lemmy," which got some laughs. And so did the very end of the show, where Barlow and even J wanted to know what we wanted to hear. Barlow kept shooting people down, and when someone still somehow thought it was funny to yell "Freebird," he responded with one of his finer comedic moments of the night: "That's the second 'Freebird' of the tour. One more 'Freebird,'" he said, "and the tour's over."
Of course, the closer was the band's blistering take on "Just Like Heaven," by the Cure. It was tempting to yell that out when no one seemed to be taking the hint, but it was more fun to laugh at Barlow shooting people down like a nerdy, sardonic carnival barker for requests. Still, this crowd was exceptional and gave Dinosaur the warmth and enthusiasm it deserved after such a spirited rendition of classic and new songs alike.
Shearwater at Bluebird Theater
Clearly everyone at the Bluebird last night was there to see Dinosaur Jr, but it never hurts when another interesting band with some following opens the show. That band on this night was Shearwater. Drawing largely from its latest record, Animal Joy, Shearwater exercised its usual gift for mixing the organic with the atmospheric. Jonathan Meiburg's rich falsetto is the kind of voice you'd normally hear in a straight-ahead R&B band, but with this material, it gave it an added depth and dignity.
Overall, the band was reminiscent of one of the better bands from Urgh! A Music War, in that it isn't clearly trying for a specific genre of music and felt like it had unmoored itself from its time and place. As the music became intense, it also became transcendent and even triumphant.
Toward the end of the set, Meiburg told us that they'd been going through Wyoming and the oil started spraying from the axle, or something along those lines. The keyboard player cleverly pointed out, "Not like Spy Hunter." Then, later in the discussion of the incident, he jokingly announced, "We're Shearwater from Denver." A disaster, yes, but these guys played like it didn't dampen their spirits one bit.
Personal Bias: Dinosaur Jr influenced My Bloody Valentine, which influenced a lot of cool newer bands. It's foundational music.
Random Detail: Ran into Kellie Palmblad of Water Bear and Ed and Katie from Forests of Azure.
By the Way: As usual, Dinosaur Jr had a few different T-shirt designs, all of which were pretty cool, including two recent album covers and another with a bird perched on a finger on a blue background with the name of the band underneath it.
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