On an evening just two weeks before the release of their ninth studio album, Farm, Dinosaur Jr played a set which hacks and burns its way through any number of competitors on a night when both Mastodon and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are luring people away. That anyone should consider anyone else worth seeing over these three Masachusetts slacker-types is a little bewildering, though I’m sure they have their reasons. Dinosaur Jr, in case you somehow haven’t heard, are one of the greatest bands of our age… and here’s why.
With the merest of tedious stage banter – in fact we probably get about three words from them the entire night – Dinosaur Jr sear through 15 indelible classics. As ‘Tarpit’, from 1987’s ‘You’re Living All Over Me’, splits the air it’s impossible not to be sucked into a vacuum of your own thoughts. For a start, J Mascis’ six Marshall cabs, three amp heads and army of Fender Jaguar guitars bellow out barricades of sound which seem to emit their own gravitational pull.
‘Pick Me Up’, live in New York
First and foremost, Dinosaur Jr are almost luxuriously loud. The production on ‘You’re Living All Over Me’, from which four songs are drawn for tonight’s set, was worryingly distorted due to the volume they recorded it at and so it has always been. Without a doubt, these excessive decibels have leaked all over subsequent bands, who have essentially taken up the baton and run with it. Perhaps this is why ‘Freak Scene’ – which ends tonight’s main set with a flurry of savage lead solos from Mascis’ lazily laser-accurate fingers – is on Rob Da Bank’s otherwise spot on ‘Sci Fi Lo Fi’ shoegaze compilation. Without the severing and soothing brutality of their first three records, the spaced-out, ear-numbing loudness of, in particular, My Bloody Valentine may not have been born to caress us with its turbine engine atmospherics.
The pummelling frenzy versus lackadaisical swagger of ‘Budge’ brings to mind the both the accelerated moments of Husker Du – their brand of speed metal was a big influence on J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow – and the future slacker slaloming of Pavement or Guided By Voices; and we all know how influential they were. It’s not such a leap to say that the fuzzy, obliterated sonics that spill from their songs, like the intense wah sweep of ‘Little Fury Things’, the tangy twisted jangle of ‘Kracked’ and the Black Sabbath slabs of ‘Sludgefeast’ had at least a cursory affect on ‘Slanted And Enchanted’. Of course, that record is held up as some indie template for how lo-fi should be done. Also, seeing as Blur stole all their best tricks for their self titled post-Britpop reinvention from Pavement, we can almost definitely say Dinosaur Jr have bored a hole through alternative music all the way through grunge, into Britpop and beyond.
‘Kracked’ live in Italy
Appropriately, their first original lineup reunion album from 2006 ‘Beyond’ gets touched on several times during the set, showing Pixies, MBV, Rage Against The Machine and any other lily-livered returning legends how to make an exceptional new record. That it was made after a mammoth 16 years apart makes ‘Chinese Democracy’ look like the complete shower of shit it truly is. We get one track from the aforementioned ‘Farm’ too, their fifth record as the original trio of Masics, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph and the second since their reunion four years ago, with ‘I Don’t Wanna Go There’. A full eight minutes long, it showcases J Mascis’ continued obsession with lead runs, soaring solos and general avoidance of generic barre chords.
It’s long been known by guitar players that J Mascis complained that attempting chords hurt his poor little fingers, hence his fondness for pulling lengthy, yet almost entirely beautiful and engaging, lead parts from his fretboard. Somehow, this adds even more to Mascis’ dopey demeanour. If you can’t do something properly, give up and do something else. Hell, does he sound at all bothered when he drawls into that microphone, simply murmuring words in an exceptionally melodic, yet almost half-arsed manner? Actually, it sounds like he could be sleepwalking, or at pains to even open his mouth. Stephen Malkmus, Graham Coxon, Kurt Cobain and countless others all owe him a debt for this. As for those piercing flurries of notes – admirably reversing punk’s effect of stripping such indulgences from popular rock music by making them endearing – J Mascis single handedly revived the guitar hero in indie-alternative rock.
‘Get Me’ live on MTV
Even Cobain, who savagely spat upon such wank-induced guitarists as Slash and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, couldn’t help fuzz-ridden, sloppy refrains spinning from his fingers because Dinosaur Jr had allowed him the comfort to do so. Plus, it’s worth mentioning that our Mascis was a drummer in hardcore band Deep Wound before switching to guitar in Dinosaur Jr. That he would choose to play louder and more forcefully than any other instrument in the band will come as no surprises to anyone who has ever played in a band with a drummer. They just like to take over don’t they? Nevertheless, Lou and Murph battle alongside in true power trio style, starting a trend for LOUD, HEAVY three pieces which continued with Ash, Reuben, Muse, mclusky/Future of the Left and other less notable examples.
Back in the Kentish Town Forum (I still can’t call it the HMV Forum, it’s too soon), as B-side ‘Chunks’ climaxes in howling tirades of feedback, about a thousand bands come swarming out of the possibilities hidden in the volume, jangly-cum-heavy guitar stylings, vocal burbling and restrained stagecraft of Dinosaur Jr – A Place To Bury Strangers, The Stone Roses, Jay Reatard, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, Teenage Fanclub, Yo La Tengo, Women, The Breeders, Superchunk, even gig-rivals Pains of Being Pure At Heart, to name but a few.
‘Over It’, from new album ‘Farm’
That these bizarre, longhaired, fractious dudes, who once described themselves as “ear bleeding country”, are anything other than obscure never-rans is also a little bewildering, but it certainly restores your faith in music – if indeed you ever lost it – that teens mingle with mid to late thirty-somethings, pogoing and singing their hearts out to spiralling tunes like ‘The Wagon’, ‘Kracked’ and, of course, ‘Freak Scene’. May their volcanic guitar eruptions resonate in our ears for all eternity, because they certainly are in mine, even two weeks later.