When the stagehand started walking across the Bluebird stage last Tuesday night carrying a plastic bag and handing out bright orange foam earplugs (at first I thought he was passing out baby carrots – strange) to everyone in the pit, I purposely didn’t take a pair. I’d been in the audience for My Bloody Valentine’s epic (and stupidly loud) “You Made Me Realise,” along with its endless, jet engine noise. I’d been a veteran of the ’90s when The Flaming Lips were known as the “loudest band in the world.” I’d been in many SWANS audiences, perhaps the most violently loud, controlled and painful assault of all. And there had been umpteen hardcore shows throughout the ’80s, from Black Flag to Minor Threat, to Bad Brains, to your buddies’ band that formed in the garage for a week while his parents were out of town – and all of these turned up well past 11. A seasoned atomic volume sound vet, I figured “I don’t need no stinkin’ earplugs!” Besides, this would be my first time seeing my heroes – J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph – together in Dinosaur Jr. – and I didn’t want anything to feel left out.
I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Earplugs!
I don’t regret not taking the earplugs–at all. But I will say I only lasted in the pit for about 3 songs before retreating to the relative sonic safety of the bar in the back. Shows always sound better back there, anyway. And this was one show I really wanted to take in – and I’m glad I did.
For some reason, every opportunity I’ve had to see Dinosaur Jr., in the nearly 30 years I’d been listening to them, always fell apart. If they were paying Lolapalooza, We got there too late for their set. If they played at a local venue, I was working nights. And then there was their multi-year hiatus. I’ve seen most of the other bands that Dinosaur Jr. spawned–Folk Implosion, Sebadoh, etc.– and J Mascis on his own, but never the triumvirate. This was a perfect chance to remedy all that missed music.
The Dream Setlist
And Mascis, Murph, and Barlow definitely delivered. Starting off with an explosive, chaotic version of “Bulbs of Passion,” they had the decibel and adrenaline level bursting through the roof in no time. While it wasn’t a chronological progression, their setlist covered a lot of ground, including “The Lung,” from You’re Living All Over Me; “Freak Scene” and “Just Like Heaven” from Bug (and the related EP); “The Wagon” from Green Mind; “Start Choppin'” from Where You Been; “Feel the Pain” from Without a Sound; “Crumble” from Beyond, “Watch the Corners,” from I Bet on Sky, and more from other releases Farm, and the latest Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. the only thing that could have been better would be to have seen them on the second night at the Bluebird as well.
This Historic Trio
This trio was so seminal to the whole ’90s sound, brilliantly mashing up the best rocking bits of Neil Young with the sound sense and guitar wizardry of Sonic Youth, and wrapping that all around Mascis’s disconnected, a-social characters and missed chances, slacker attitude, and overwhelming exhaustion with the weight of growing up. Seeing them in 2016 – a little grayer, or more bald – brought all that back into a beautiful perspective, one that showed me that even the most odious parts of “adulting” can lead to your own success and art.
Visually, they didn’t appear to have aged at all since the ’90s: Mascis flung his long (now silver) mane around as he played complex, wicked guitar licks at impossible volumes – never missing a beat, and a casual as if he were standing in your kitchen with a beer can in hand, talking about his latest girl-miasma. Murph was a locomotive, pulling tons of beat and exploding the tracks as he pounded a course through all the distortion. Lou Barlow exploded, again and again, a monster – in the Muppet sense – thrashing on every inch of his bass, and wildly flailing over stage left, never stopping for more than a second between songs, and getting lost beneath his mane of black repeatedly.
I’m not sure if earplugs would have deafened any part of the show – but I’m still glad I didn’t stuff ’em in. Missing even the smallest, molecular part of this show would far outweigh any loss in hearing that I don’t already enjoy.