Back in college at Syracuse (yes, that's where I went, ask anyone, except those who attended Rutgers College of Engineering in the early 90s), one of the many joys I experienced was my nascent discovery of what was then called "alternative rock" and probably used to be called new wave or punk and is now called indie rock if anything. That music and its antecedents (is that an appropriate word, wait I'm an author so I should know the answer to that, but let's move on) has given me unknown joy over the past 25+ years, and Dinosaur Jr. were right in that initial wave of college discovery -- well not the first wave, the first wave were mostly new wave acts from the UK who peaked in the 80s but I didn't discover until college in the 90s (The Smiths, New Order, The Cure) but that second wave, bands that were actually putting out amazing new albums but also reached back into 80s for their start, these bands were really the bulk of my college memories, or later college memories, my sophomore and junior and senior years (there were less memories during senior year after I fully discovered a separate joy of punishing my liver for its years of sobriety) but anyway these bands and those albums and that music is to me inseparable from my memory of college -- The Jesus & Mary Chain, Pixies, R.E.M., The Replacements, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Husker Du, Buffalo Tom, Pearl Jam, and on and on. I remember sitting in my room for hours between classes "studying" while listening to a copy of Automatic for the 38th straight time, or prepping for a night out of drinking with my roommate Dan's copy of Pearl Jam's Ten cranking throughout our tiny upstairs apartment on Robinson Street (I'm sure there's a Robinson Street in Syracuse, NY -- don't Google it...). And it was there, in college, that one band stood above all the others, right up top, with the double shot of early 90s releases Green Mind and Where You Been. No song to me says college to me more than "Out There."
"I feel OK
Dinosaur Jr. released their very first album back in 1985, called Dinosaur. That was actually the band's name at first, before they were sued by another band with that name and they added the Jr. That album was made by the original trio of J Mascis on guitars, Lou Barlow on bass, and Murph on drums, who only lasted as a band through their first three albums, before Lou was kicked out after the Bug tour in 1989 following incessant arguments with longtime collaborator Mascis. The band reformed back in 2005 for the 20th anniversary and have tour rather frequently since (I know I saw them in 2011) and were back in NYC for a 7 day "residency" at the Bowery Ballroom for the 30th anniversary of their first release this week, and I got to catch the Monday show.
We were greeted at first with the presence of the legendary Henry Rollins from the balcony, who told a stirring story of going to concerts as a young teen with fellow future punk legend Ian MacKaye, first to arena rock shows like Led Zepellin and other (crap) bands that they thought were OK but then, magically, to smaller shows in smaller venues with unknown punk bands where they could stand up close to the band and be engrossed in the sound. MacKaye would go on to form DC hardcore band Minor Threat and later the legendary Fugazi, Rollins would front hardcore punk band Black Flag and later the Henry Rollins Band, and he implored the audience to keep going to shows, to defy the terrorists (and frightened Republican politicians and their pants-wetting followers) to continue supporting this communal experience of listening as one to a group of musicians rocking out with the speakers at full volume, celebrating life instead of being afraid of living (I'm paraphrasing but I was inspired, thanks Henry). And he said to keep supporting bands like his contemporaries Dinosaur Jr., who bounded onto the stage in original formation (J, Lou, and Murph) to play, in order, the 11 tracks off the 30-year old Dinosaur album.
I will admit that although I was once a massive Dinosaur Jr. fan, I was not a completist, and largely avoided their first album (starting with their masterpiece second one, You're Living All Over Me) and only knew a couple tracks ("Repulsion", "Does it Float"). They had not yet perfected their sound as a band with this album but it sounded pretty great Monday night and was followed by a brief intermission, for that was only the appetizer to a nearly 3-hour long celebration of Dinosaur Jr.'s music. And what great music it was.
After a weird and admittedly not very pleasant sitar arrangement with special guests Andrew Labrecque and (comedian) Todd Barry (oddly), Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) -- who I just saw a week ago at Webster Hall during a multi-band show celebrating Ground Control Touring's 15 year anniversary (god, we're all getting old) -- Lee came out to assist on "Little Fury Things" (the first track off You're Living All Over Me) and the night really got rolling. Other guests for the night included Bill Janovitz of the aforementioned Buffalo Tom singing "Tarpit"; Thalia Zedek singing "Feel the Pain" (as she did on the original) and Tiffany Anders on "Get Me", as she did on the original. Famed indie producer / guitarist Don Fleming joined for an amazing version of "The Wagon" -- "the first ever live attempt" to reproduce the single version, which Don played guitar on (Lou was gone when "The Wagon" was made -- the first post-Lou Dinosaur Jr track), and a second drummer Jay Spiegel (of Gumball) also contributed. It was a definite highlight of the night.
Other highlights included the aforementioned "Out There," which I think was the third song they played and the first time I'd ever heard it live and definitely the inspiration for this post. By the later 90s I had fully discovered "indie rock" (Superchunk, Pavement, Sonic Youth) which overlapped with alternative rock, but rejected "major labels" (although Sonic Youth were on a major label all those years), and since Dinosaur Jr.'s post-Lou releases were on a major label and spawned MTV-era "hits" (that's how I discovered them, in fact) I probably became a little biased against this later output (also perhaps because after 1994's Without a Sound, "they" only had one more mediocre release before J. retired the name and started making albums on his own). Anyway, for whatever reason, I have mostly gravitated toward the "early" recordings (the Lou years, particularly You're Living All Over Me and Bug, as well as Green Mind, the first post-Lou album) instead of the songs that first drew me in to the band, but hearing "Out There" and "Start Choppin'" live, for the first time, well it drew me right back in. I love Lou to death and Sebadoh is probably higher on my all-time list today than Dinosaur Jr. itself (although it's quite close), but J. really knows how to write a hook, with or without Lou.
I don't have a full setlist. I think they played "Sludgefest" and I know they played "Freak Scene" (!) and they played their cover of "Just Like Heaven" and their encore was an "all hands on deck" rendition of a sped-up "Cortez the Killer" from Neil Young. It was a truly memorable show at the greatest live rock venue in the world, or at least in NYC (the Bowery Ballroom). I missed Friday's second show in the residency due to an illness that has finally passed, so I was real glad I was able to make it Monday night.
Below is some video from the show.
And Brooklyn Vegan has a whole lot more.
"Little Fury Things" with Lee Ranaldo
"The Wagon" with Don Fleming
This blog belongs to Bill Elenbark.
Lover of songs. Writer of wrongs.