Dinosaur Jr. Stands the Test of Time

Dinosaur Jr.

Returning home after almost 11 months since performing at the House of Blues, Amherst natives Dinosaur Jr. came back to Boston for two nights to kick off a tour that will take it through the country. These old rockers started way back in 1984, forming from the ashes of guitarist J. Mascis’ and bassist Lou Barlow’s hardcore band, Deep Wound, with the addition of drummer Emmett “Murph” Murphy. Throughout the following seven years, the band worked tirelessly until it became an MTV mainstay with its major label debut album, Green Mind. After innumerable lineup changes, 11 albums, one breakup, and a reformation, Dinosaur Jr. continues on, touring and recording new music as if time never affected it.

It is possible that with time, the musicianship has gotten better, but the energy has certainly dropped from the performers. In no way was this show show anything short of spectacular, but it is clear that the two sold-out nights were conducted by men past their prime.

The effect of a lifetime of rocking was not only evident in the headlining performance, but in the opening act, Easy Action, as well. It was odd to see a punk act play hardcore music to a sold-out show full of middle-aged locals who have aged beyond their ability to mosh, as is standard at hardcore shows. It was even stranger to see how these lords of the pre-grunge music scene still cling on to the good old days even after being worn down by the chisel of time. The result was a group of four 50-year-old men covering the songs from their youth, sans the energy and violence that drew the fans to them 30 years ago. This does not mean the performance was inherently bad, as cult icon John Brannon’s vocals stood the test of time, screaming his punk anthems with a contorted sneer that resembles that of Regan MacNeil from the Exorcist, while guitarist Harold Richardson abused away from his guitar, tremolo-picking along to drummer John LeMay’s lightning fast beats. Despite the anachronistic sentiment of the music itself, Easy Action proved to be a fun act, hyping up the audience to see their teenage heroes and the night’s main event.

The 30 minutes between the two sets had the crowd feeling simultaneously enthusiastic and impatient, as the guitar tech took 15 minutes to tune all J’s instruments, tinkering with each and every one of the gigantic Marshall stacks that flanked the stage. Even after disappearing for another five minutes, the tech returned again to prepare the final touches for the show, building more suspense. After another seemingly infinite amount of waiting, the band silently took the stage, gave one look at each other, and launched straight into their first song, “The Lung.” The cheers from the crowd, coming from a place of instant recognition and love, almost drowned out Mascis’ clean chords looping around Barlow’s distorted double-stop bass chords that grounded the band’s sound. Given this song’s high energy and general appreciation from the fan base, it was clear that there would not be much movement from the crowd for the rest of the show. Given this, I can’t help but think about how different the concert environment must have been 30 years ago, when the band had just released its emotional and raucous sophomore effort, You’re Living All Over Me, and everyone was moshing and dancing in between each other, while now everyone was simply swaying and occasionally pulling up their smartphones to get a nice Snapchat story.

The first half of the setlist was full of newer songs from its latest albums, such as Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not and I Bet on Sky, to which the crowd responded positively, especially the successful 2012 single “Watch the Corners.” The true nostalgia trip kicked in when the band began to perform songs popular during its MTV era, such as “Feel the Pain,” “The Wagon” (the Sub Pop 7” version), and “Freak Scene.” Accompanying these performances in the background were snippets of the music videos of these songs mixed in with live footage of the members touring sometime around the ’90s. The only times anyone in the band addressed the crowd were to introduce the added sitar and extra drum player on “The Wagon” and reintroducing John Brannon during the encore before covering “TV Eye” by the Stooges. Barlow also waved at the crowd when the concertgoers applauded him after singing and playing guitar on the song “Lost All Day,” calling him by his first name, shouting things like “Well done, Lou!”

This cheer and adulation served as a reminder to both the crowd and the band that they are back home, surrounded by the people who were there to see them before the band became the international rock force it is known for today. As a young, relatively new fan of the band, it was truly humbling to see the older fans who have been supporting the trio since the mid-’80s. It is evident that even now, 30-plus years after the formation, Boston is still in love with this band not only for its work, but for its massive influence on alternative rock as we know today.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor