We have been living through very ‘interesting’ times, in the Chinese curse way, and going back to concerts has been one of those strange things. Venues (those that survived the pandemic) have adapted, more-or-less, with checks of your vax card along with your I.D., even if they’ve also raised their drink prices. But it’s still weird to go out again, and if you do, you want to know that you’re gonna have a good time. Forget the new bands, sorry, but we want our musical comfort food, someone we know is going to rock. Dinosaur Jr always, always, rock, and did it again for the umpteenth time at Brooklyn Steel on Saturday night, November 20th.
“We had a new album out in April, and I guess now we’re touring it, so here are songs off it…” After two old (going back to the eighties) classics in “Bulbs of Passion” and “Tarpit”, singer/guitarist J Mascis introduced their material from this year’s Sweep It Into Space (QRO review). Mascis, singer/bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph are ultra-veterans of the alt-punk scene, going back to the actual geographic ‘scenes’ of the eighties (they were of Boston, like Mission of Burma & Pixies). The pandemic was their longest time off touring since then; even when they weren’t in Dinosaur Jr, they were still making music & touring. They had planned to tour Sweep in the late summer, but COVID concerns cancelled those, so this was their first time out on the road with the new material, first real shows since the pandemic began (minus a few drive-ins and livestreams – QRO livestream review). So, it might have been weird to wait so long to play songs like the killer “I Ain’t” or Barlow’s “Garden”, but here they were.
Barlow, Mascis and Murph reunited as part of the early millennium wave of alt-reunions (begun by the likes of Burma and Pixies), and have become basically the best of them, not just cashing in on the oldies but making record after great record that fit in perfectly with their twenty century material (and they haven’t broken up again, like Burma, or lost anyone key, like Pixies). Indeed, it was great to hear a song like “Been There Waiting”, from 2007’s first new reunion album Beyond (QRO review), get as big cheers as the following ultra-classic “The Wagon” – though “Wagon” had an extra drummer & guitarist, plus enough moshing for Barlow to remark afterwards for people to be careful.
And yes, there were some moshers & crowd-surfers, up front, but also more than enough space in Brooklyn Steel (QRO venue review) to hang in the back if you were an old fan, and there were a lot of old fans in attendance. The kind of fans who waited in the new special American Express entry line to get their five dollars off first two drinks and free coat check – with drink prices going up, five bucks helps & ten bucks helps doubly, even if they heavy usage of coat check created a bottleneck to exit the nearby Brooklyn Steel bathrooms after the show was over (also because of the line for merch, because Dinosaur Jr has had great merch since your mom washed your band t-shirts).
Dinosaur Jr’s longevity hasn’t just given them many, many great songs – so many there were bound to be a bunch that you wished that they’d played. It’s also made the live show a very professional operation, compact and delivering like a three-man band should be. No muss, no fuss, just rocking, with only the occasional comment from Mascis or Barlow, like Mascis introducing the Sweep songs, or Barlow announcing they were gonna play two from 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me, yet still kind of surprised at the cheers, adding, “I don’t think I’ve ever said that. They’re twins. They belong together.” After the crushing “Sludgefest” & “Kracked”, Barlow introduced the next song, “Mountain Man”, as from their very first record, 1985’s Dinosaur (back before they had to add the “Jr” – editor’s note: there’s no period in “Jr”, as Barlow told QRO earlier this year – QRO interview), mentioning coming down to play CBGBs in their parents station wagon. Once, even Dinosaur Jr were juniors.
When the band put out 2012’s I Bet On Sky (QRO review), QRO couldn’t help but remark, “Always bet on Dinosaur Jr” – and it’s still so true. This night they even played a few from their nineties alt-boom era, when first Barlow, then Murph, were kicked out, once-upon-a-time MTV mainstays “Start Choppin’” and “Feel the Pain” – and the encore was none other than their classic Cure cover, “Just Like Heaven”, that they’ve done for so long their own way that it’s their own song (Dinosaur Jr don’t even do covers half-assed). Many things have changed, but still always bet on Dinosaur Jr.