Frank Black, Kim Gordon and Johnny Marr Join Dinosaur Jr. Onstage
There’s no reason to expect a historic show when you go to see a 30-year-old band. That’s not really the way rock works – especially the punk and indie variations. If you don’t burn out, you fade away, putting out records that weakly echo the blissfully heedless days (and charging $100 for bad seats) or slipping into retirement.
There’s no need to detail how immensely influential Dinosaur Jr. were to ’90s indie rock. In a way, the past 25 years can be accurately summarized by the sound of J. Mascis bending two notes at the same time. But last night, at their 25th anniversary show for their classic album ‘You’re Living Over Me’ at Terminal Five in New York City, Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph proved that the waves of guitar are just as blistering, and the songs are just as good (if not better), as they were when the album was released in 1987. Could seeing them in their prime have been any better than seeing them last night? Or are they in their prime right now? Their most recent album, ‘I Bet on Sky,’ certainly gives ‘Bug’ and ‘Green Mind’ a run for their money.
If it’s any indication of quality, the typical Dinosaur Jr. audience hasn’t changed much since 1987: flannel- and dirty ball cap-wearing dudes and crowd-surfers, clutching their hair in disbelief at each fresh brain-melter.
Kurt Vile, a flannel-wearing rock type himself and a Mascis cohort, played a solid opening set. His first song ‘Hunchback’ was the best, driven by the screech of his guitar; his voice sounded thin as he strummed through songs like ‘Smoke Ring for My Halo.’ Still, Vile earns his long hair and Mascis credentials.
In between sets, wispy-haired roadies twisted mic stands before a wall of amps, stacked sideways upon each other like Jenga pieces. Then, Dinosaur Jr., plus a flute player named Suzanne, sauntered onstage and started into a swaying, exalted ‘Thumb.’
The band, as promised, played ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ in its entirety, and it was utterly ferocious. Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth sang on ‘Little Fury Things’ as Mascis fed his guitar into the pedal board. And an early highlight — the repetitive moment at the end of ‘The Lung’ — distilled energy into rhythm.
Once ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ was through, guests started to file onstage for various songs. The Pixies‘ Frank Black sang ‘Almost Fare’ (from ‘I Bet on Sky’) and then tossed his hand-painted lyric sheet into the audience. He then tore through the Pixies’ ‘Lame,’ to the audience’s frenzied delight.
Mascis was wicked during ‘Alone,’ as Al Cisneros, from the doom band Sleep, and Kurt Vile joined him onstage to feast upon the sludge. And Johnny Marr — the legendary guitarist from the Smiths — played ‘The Boy With the Thorn in His Side’ with Mascis, who read the lyrics from a stand in front of him.
Near the end of the show, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon appeared onstage. The band tore into ‘Don’t,’ swirling over Barlow’s terse note of loneliness and self-hatred. ‘Why don’t you like me?’ Gordon screamed again and again. As the lights flashed and she got down on her knees with one hand in her hair, she screamed again, ‘Why don’t you like me?’ The song crawled on and then dissipated as Gordon screamed. It was as urgent as anything played by all the indie bands that wear Dinosaur Jr.’s influence on their sleeves.
Mascis has at least once referred to Dinosaur Jr.’s sound as “ear-bleeding country.” We never quite understood that, but after last night, we understand it a little better. Like old country singers, Dinosaur Jr. are playing their same old songs with more experience, cracks in their voices, more white hair and 30 years of shows behind them. They’re playing with a little more authority, like they’ve grown into songs that were once a little too big for them.
Little Fury Things (with Lee Ranaldo)
In a Jar
Almost Fare (with Frank Black)
Tame (Pixies cover) (with Frank Black)
Alone (with Al Cisneros, Kyle Spence, and Kurt Vile)
Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know
Watch the Corners
The Wagon (with Johnny Marr and Kevin Drew)
The Boy With The Thorn In His Side (The Smiths cover) (with Johnny Marr)
Training Ground (Deep Wound cover) (with Dale Crover of the Melvins)
Crucified (Iron Cross cover with Don Fleming)
Don’t (with Kim Gordon)
T.V. Eye (The Stooges cover) (with John Petkovic, Tommy Stinson, and Fred Armisen)
Freak Scene (with Kevin Drew)