DINOSAUR JR. performing as part of NXNE at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), June 8, 6 pm doors. $34.50 (first 100 NXNE badges/wristbands free). 416-870-8000. J MASCIS celebrity interview with DAVE BOOKMAN at the Holiday Inn (370 King West), June 8, noon. NXNE delegates only. www.nxne.com. Rating: NNNNN
The unexpected reconstitution of Dinosaur Jr.' s classic lineup with J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph was shocking enough, considering the less than amicable terms on which Barlow left. What's even more shocking is that their just-released comeback album, Beyond (Fat Possum), doesn't suck.
That's a rare feat for groups making reunion albums. You need look no further than The Weirdness by the reactivated Stooges to know just how horrible such ventures can be. More than a mere disappointment, it's an abomination, but it seems that Iggy Pop and company are less concerned with the Stooges' legacy than with getting paid.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," chuckles Barlow from his home. "That new Stooges album is awful. I don't know if it's the worst reunion album ever - I mean, they're not playing fretless basses or stuff like that - but it's pretty fucking god-awful.
"Whether Beyond is successful or not, I can't say. We didn't really do anything differently when we recorded it. The first couple of sessions took place at J's house, although I'm not sure you could even call them sessions, because it was just us getting together to play in his basement. It was all very relaxed and casual, but maybe that's why everything worked so well.
"We were each able to ease into the process. There was no pressure to live up to what we'd done before, because I didn't think that was even possible, so it never entered my mind. The whole approach was very similar to the way we worked in the past as far as how J introduced the songs to us, only this time he seemed to have less of an idea of what he wanted to do with them.
"Still, with a few exceptions, all the songs were dictated by how J envisioned the drum parts, because he considers himself a drummer first and foremost."
When Barlow talks about not doing anything differently, he means right down to the exact same gear they used to make their career-best work, 1987's You're Living All Over Me and 1988's Bug. That was no problem for Mascis, who keeps all the vintage guitars, amps and effects he employs on recordings at his home.
However, Barlow had unloaded his signature Rickenbacker bass, and getting it back took some finagling. It seems all those artfully complex parts he'd created with the bass for Dinosaur Jr.'s classic albums had caused the taped-up Rickenbacker to appreciate in value.
"Six months after I got kicked out of the group in 1989, I sold that bass to Jens Jurgensen for $300 and he played it in Boss Hog. He still had the thing, so I was kinda hoping he'd just give me it or at least sell it back to me for what he'd paid for it but, umm no. He wanted $2,000 bucks! Somehow I bargained him down a bit and maintained our friendship."
For the first year and a half of their reunion tour, Barlow used that bass, but then stopped, mysteriously.
"It got stolen out of a trailer parked outside our hotel in New York City. As horrible as that was, the loss of the Rickenbacker freed me up to try using a different bass, and the Fender I'm using now is much more versatile."
It's a good thing Barlow was able to remain pals with Jurgensen, since the bassist-turned-filmmaker is currently working on a Sebadoh rocumentary shot during their recent reunion tour. There's also a Dino-doc on the way.
"When we began the Dinosaur Jr. reunion tour, J's brother-in-law followed us around with a camera for the first year and shot all kinds of footage. There's a live DVD coming out with one of the shows, but that's just a taster for a larger documentary with interviews and stuff.
"No doubt there'll be some commentary from Thurston Moore," he laughs. "A retrospective look at Dinosaur Jr.'s career wouldn't really be complete without Thurston's input, right?"
Don't call it a comeback
Although Dinosaur Jr.'s brilliant Beyond disc proves that all reunion albums don't blow chunks, there are some artists who really ought to reconsider their comeback plans.
SMASHING PUMPKINS The fact that whatever they come up with won't be as horrible as a Zwan album isn't a good enough reason to reunite.
GENESIS The province of Quebec notwithstanding, does anyone really want to join these lumpy codgers on their sad nostalgia trip?
N.W.A. The comeback album by Compton's finest has been in the works since 93, and while you have to respect Dr. Dre's desire not to release anything that's not perfect, it might be time to call the whole thing off.
LABELLE Okay, so the Lady Marmalade remake was a hit. Does that mean Nona Hendryx needs to dust off the kooky feather and sequin getups and strut around with Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash? Maybe not.
THE PIXIES Instead of releasing an album, someone should set up a hidden camera in the studio and film the ridiculous arguments that arise during the recording. A hilarious Survivor-style reality show waiting to happen.
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Lou Barlow reveals how Thurston Moore's mansion came to be used as the setting for Dinosaur Jr.'s Been There All the Time Video
Video for Dinosaur Jr.'s Been There All the Time
Some reunited bands with new albums to promote would rather not play the old favourites at shows - not Dinosaur Jr. according to Barlow