Reunited and it feel so good… Eighties/nineties punk-rock icons Dinosaur Jr. are back and were on form like never before when they played a blistering set at New York’s Webster Hall.The Amherst, Massachusetts-born band has been defying expectations for a few years now, not just in their unlikely coming back together, but in releasing a brand-new album, Beyond (QRO review) – and it being so damn good. So one could be forgiven for not knowing what to expect at their live show, especially as it was an odd ‘Sponsored By Camel Cigarettes’ – but still non-smoking – concert, with free tickets online or from your Camel representative, and it was on Labor Day. But once again, Dinosaur Jr. didn’t disappoint – not at all.
The reunion of guitarist J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow always seemed impossible, even after the Frank Black-Kim Deal Pixies reunion of 2004, but they and drummer Emmett Patrick Murphy got back together in 2005 to tour on the back of re-releases of the band’s three nineteen-eighties albums, Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me, and Bug (the only three before Mascis kicked Barlow out of the band, and began sidelining Murphy). And then this year, they released Beyond, a record that draws upon the entire Dinosaur legacy, from the grittier early days of the original line-up to the catchier, mainly-Mascis material of the later years. But as great as this all has been, after them seeing at Webster Hall, it almost seemed like that was all just a prelude to their live concert.
Dinosaur Jr.’s set-list was mainly divided between Beyond numbers and tracks off of their first three records, especially Living All Over Me, but still included some choice tidbits from the post-Barlow epoch. While opening with the slower “Tarpit” and going into the encore break with the thudding “Sludgefest” may not have been the perfect Living choices, the evocative “Little Fury Things” was the first big, crowd-pleasin’ oldie of the night, and the wry-but-powerful “In A Jar” brought the crowd back from the break at a fever pitch. “Jar” was the first of three old songs that closed out the night, all played in rapid succession, without a moment to catch your breath – just the way it should be. Bug’s “Freak Scene” was a perfect fit with “Jar”, a little more emotion, and a little less irony, but still totally rockin’. And the band ended things where it all began, their then-self-titled debut’s (before a lawsuit from Jefferson Airplane spin-off The Dinosaurs forced the adoption of the ‘Jr.’) “Mountain Man”, a grizzly bear of a song (about the life of a literal ‘mountain man’ – including fighting off grizzly bears…) that featured some of Mascis’ finest guitar-wailing ever, and some crushing, Sonic Youth-level feedback long after the Dinosaurs had left the building.
Dinosaur Jr. playing “Little Fury Things” live @ Webster Hall, New York, NY:
Mascis was just as on-point with the newest material, taking Beyond’s crunching southern guitar-rock “Pick Me Up” even farther up than on recording (putting today’s alt-South axe-grinders like Kings of Leon on notice…). But, just as the new record features more cooperation than in probably any of the original trio’s prior work, so did its numbers live, with Murphy living up to South Park’s Eric Cartman’s demand to “beat the living shit out of the drum!” on “Been There All The Time”, and Barlow getting down deep with his bass on his “Back To Your Heart”. The band did not neglect the catchier parts of Beyond, delivering with the moving and lyrical “This Is All I Came To Do” (featured two nights later on Late Night with Conan O’Brien – QRO late-night listings) and the beautiful “Crumble”.
Dinosaur Jr. playing “Pick Me Up” live @ Webster Hall, New York, NY:
Also see them playing “Crumble”
Likewise, Dinosaur Jr. didn’t skip over the band’s more chart-friendly singles from its Nirvana-era crest of mainstream popularity. Green Mind’s ‘carry you along’ epic, “The Wagon”, Where You Been’s sad, yearning lament, “Out There”, Without a Sound’s high-and-driving melancholy, “Feel The Pain” – which one was your favorite depended on which record introduced you to Dinosaur and made your Gen X ass fall in love with them (and, despite the free-tix nature of the event, the crowd was thick with long-time fans). That would also determine which nineties song you wished they’d played, but didn’t, like Green’s eponymous track, Where’s ‘hit single’ “Start Choppin’”, or Without’s “I Don’t Think So”. But when going to see a band with over two decades worth of material, some stuff would naturally be passed over, not just those, but also recent songs like Beyond’s “Almost Ready” and “What If I Knew”, and early-era pieces like Bug’s “Let It Ride”, Dinosaur’s “Forget The Swan”, and You’re Living All Over Me’s cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”. And it shouldn’t come as a shock that the band would give shortest shrift to the material not made by all three of them – nobody was expecting Dinosaur Jr. to play Barlow’s post-expulsion kiss-off to Mascis, “The Freed Pig”, even though Barlow’s later (and also recently reunited) band, Sebadoh, did fill that request – at Webster Hall (QRO venue review) – about five months earlier (QRO live review).
That might have been the only way to make this show even more awesome. Dinosaur Jr. had already blown fellow U-Mass first George Bush-era indie-rockers The Pixies – and everyone else – out of the reunion water with Beyond. The trio, blessed with three of the greatest names ever to shout out at a concert, “J!”, “Lou!”, and “Murph!”, had absolutely nothing to prove at Webster Hall (especially considering the low, low prices many paid to get in). But what they did prove is that, until Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould and Grant Hart bury the hatchet (please?…), they’re the kings of the reunion – and of rock ‘n’ roll.