Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dinosaur Jr at House of Blues Sunset Strip, 11/5/09

Band reunions are a tricky business.  Oftentimes they get back together for financial reasons and noticeably lack any semblance of whatever made them great.  Those of us who missed them the first time around may enjoy it anyway, but it's just not the same.  On the other hand, sometimes it's Dinosaur Jr.

My only real exposure to Dinosaur Jr was their 90's semi-hit "Feel the Pain," memorable both for being a killer song and for its Spike Jonze-directed video.  I saw them at my first ever concert, KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas in 1994, and the only things I remember clearly are how tall lead singer J Mascis was, and how impressively loud they were.  By then Mascis was already without his two original bandmates, Lou Barlow and Murph, and he eventually retired the brand.  But a few years ago the original lineup started playing together again, releasing the first reunion album with 2007's Beyond.  In June of this year they came back again with Farm, an incredible display of guitar rock that you'll definitely see mentioned here on year-end best-of lists.  Reuniting has put a creative charge into these guys, after initially just playing the old material.  Much to their fans' delight, they've eschewed the victory lap that bands like the Pixies have gone for and put out some of the best material of their career.

Lucky me, after seeing their reunion tour in 2005, I heard Farm at a friend's house right after it came out and haven't looked back.  I was looking forward to the show at the House of Blues more than any show in recent memory, and it was as great as I'd hoped for.  After running into my fellow Brothers of the Green Polo, I positioned myself down near the stage.  They opened with a slew of older songs that I didn't know, but the sheer force of their sound was fantastic anyway.  Mascis has a plaintive, almost craggly voice, but it matches the emotion of his endless array of riffs, and Barlow and Murph form a powerful rhythm section for his guitar to coast along.  Barlow in particular seems indefatigable, rocking out and headbanging the entire set even after his other band, Lou Barlow and the Missingmen, had opened.  A few songs in they played "Imagination Blind," a Barlow sung tune from Farm built more around the bass than guitar, and then "Plans," another new song.  The highlights of the show were "Pieces," on my short list for song of the year, and a surprise rendition of "Feel the Pain."  The version of Dinosaur Jr that did that song was not the same as the one that played the other night, and I assumed they would only play songs that the three of them wrote together, but play it they did, and it was more heavy and rocked out than normal.

Mascis has the look and stature of a mix between Edgar Winter and Frankenstein's monster, and he just stands there and plays without any fanfare or flash.  In fact, the whole band is one of the least interactive I've ever seen, but the music, and the constant solos, more than make up for it.  Usually constant wailing is a bad thing, but Mascis finds a way to make it all cohesive and interesting.  During the final song of the main set, "I Don't Wanna Go There," there were three different solos, but the song was so strong already, and his guitar playing so impressive, that the crowd never wanted it to end.  And whatever else your opinion of the band may be, he is without doubt one of the best guitarists out there.  By the time it was all over, my ears were feeling the pain of everyone, but my heart was happy.

The next night, I saw the aforementioned Pixies play their album Doolittle in its entirety at the Hollywood Palladium, and it really threw the difference between the two bands into stark relief.  Black Francis and company played really well, and it was neat to see them play an album all the way through, but a couple things happened.  First, when they came back out for their second encore they started doing songs from other albums, which was fun, but Black's vocals sounded strained on "UMASS" and they decided to play "Where Is My Mind?" for the eleventy-billionth time.  And the second was my realization that they were creatively frozen, and while the songs were in theory timeless, Frank's voice would continue to age and crumble around them, instead of finding something new to say.  I think I'd rather have them put out to pasture than stagnate into a greatest hits band.  There's still time, but for now it made me appreciate Dinosaur Jr even more.  You can never have enough good, new music.


Tom said...

Excellent review and I'll have to check 'em out. I'm sure you would not be surprised to hear that I share your assessment of the Pixies. The loud/quiet/loud documentary does a good job of showing what's going on there. Charles and Kim never see each other except on stage (don't even use the same transporation or green room). Other than Kim, everyone is struggling financially and needed the reunion just as a job. I saw them early in the reunion at Irvine Meadows, and they played a great set. Obviously it must be satisfying to get the appreciation from the fans, and to be more successful now than ever. But that band is dead and it will never live again. Just being a note-for-note tribute to yourself is, well, kind of sad. And since that's paying the bills for now, none of them are interested in anything more.

The Breeders continue to kick ass, though.

Hatfield said...

No, I'm not surprised, since we've talked about this before. I'm sure I would have enjoyed them more had it not been in the immediate afterglow of Dinosaur Jr, but that's the way it goes.

Heh, Charles. She kept referring to him that way to the sound guys. I considered doing it in my post, but I figured I was already getting on them enough.

Dinosaur Jr's emotion and guitar remind of Built To Spill, so I think you'd like the last two that came out. They're heavier and obviously their own entity, but they feel like they're occupying the same general space in music. You know, the awesome part.

Tom said...

Ha, yes, your archival research says I am repeating myself.