Dinosaur Jr. at the Phoenix, July 17. Tickets: $34.50. Attendance: 500. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Observant fans knew what they were in for as soon as they entered the Phoenix Sunday night and saw the bloc of miked Marshall amps. Dinosaur Jr. were known in their prime to just be really fuckin' loud, and they did not disappoint in that regard.
The mixed crowd ranged from university boys with baseball hats who, surprisingly, seemed to know every word to even the oldest songs, to 30- and 40-something punks who've grown up and gotten real jobs. It wasn't a total sausage farm, but I can testify that there was never a lineup at the women's washroom.
Once they hit the stage, there were few moments when principal songwriter, prodigious guitarist and iconoclastic frontman J Mascis stepped out from behind his mic to actually look into the crowd. His blank, stoic stage presence was reinforced by his tendency to play with his face completely obscured by his sheet of long grey hair, or with his body partially tucked behind the stage-right curtain.
This left bassist Lou Barlow with the job of addressing the audience, passing out earplugs to some in the front row and toasting the crowd with his first glass of wine on his 39th birthday.
For the most part, though, the band jumped from song to song as if they'd been doing it all these years, only breaking the pace to retune their overworked guitars or, in the case of drummer Murph , to mop his bald head with a towel.
Meanwhile, the silent and enigmatic Mascis continued playing songs he wrote 20-plus years ago as a teenager, country-fried whine and fluid guitar soloing intact, with no evident qualms about playing only the classics.
All the material was taken from Dinosaur's first three records, which were made with the now-reunited lineup before their breakup in 1988. These are punk songs with pretty, quiet bits and cheery, bouncy bits alternating with blasts of screeching, cathartic noise. The most amazing thing about hearing them live after so many years is how well the music (not to mention the band) holds up.
Unfortunately, the Toronto Nod was prevalent, so there wasn't much movement to these totally danceable, singable songs. The audience showed its appreciation vocally, though, and after performing for over an hour the guys came back out for two encores.
As expected, they created a deafening wall of music and noise that our ears aren't built to cope with. The concert setting isn't the best way to hear these tunes for the first time, since the nuances of the gentler parts are washed out by the overall roar and, later in the show, overwhelmed by the ear-ringing that soon takes over.
By far the most compelling and curious of all the self-indulgent reunion tours of late, this show made obvious the brilliance of these songs and the huge influence Dinosaur Jr. has had on alternative music.
Totally worth the price of admission, not to mention the potential long-term hearing loss.