Fri Aug 19
1332 W Burnside
Funny how things change. Only a year ago, the idea of Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis and Lou Barlow burying their legendarily blood-splattered hatchet was laughable. Their partnership resembled a particularly dysfunctional sibling relationship: Mascis the aloof and ineffable older brother, Barlow tugging in desperate awe at his trouser leg—craving the approval that the laconic guitarist could never quite deliver to his passive-aggressive bassist.
But many of underground rock's most fabled glaciers have melted of late, and reunion fever seems to have finally trickled down to indierock, with the genre's long-thought-dead legends once again skulking the clubs and theaters. It makes sense that the Dinosaur would re-animate—I mean, even Frank Black and Kim Deal can hold hands long enough to pick up the paycheck their hegemonic influence has earned the Pixies since they split.
Unfortunately for most of these bands, the shark-like rock 'n' roll animal needs to move forward lest it die. Nostalgia is the cholesterol clogging its arteries. Compare Sonic Youth—still exploring their own creative frontiers with a hunger that shames bands half their age or experience—with any one of these reunion sideshows, and you'll find the vital, messy, living spirit that's missing in most of the revivalists' performances. Because Sonic Youth never stopped. Their shows are about a band at the peak of their creativity, not trading on past glories.
But trust rock 'n' roll to fool you with an exception to every rule. The Dinosaur reunion is... well, it's pretty special. And for a number of reasons, not least the chance to re-address this group's tarnished reputation. While none of the post-Barlow Dinosaur records were anything less than inspired, even Dinosaur drummer Murph had to admit recently that, upon Barlow's messy exit in 1989, he worried "where we'd draw our artistic fuel, without our original dynamic." The band themselves realized early on that their turbulent group dynamic was a key to their identity—Barlow remembers believing "Rock 'n' roll was about a bunch of ambivalent people getting together, hating each other, and playing loud, nasty, hateful music." That attitude gave their greatest album (1987's You're Living All Over Me) its title. It influenced their messy jumble of careworn noise, drawing equally upon classic rock and acid-fried industrial experimentalism.
That adventurous, experimental edge is exactly what the re-animated Dinosaur is plugging into on stage. Their London shows at the start of the summer were electrifying with the sheer proud, brave oddness of the old Dinosaur sound—clunky, passionate bass lines riding the foreground, until autistically articulate blasts of noise swallow the subterranea whole.
And that's another reason why Dinosaur is still unmissable: the return of Mascis's pedal-hammering guitar heroics. Some swore the lank-haired one's laconic soloing mired later Dinosaur in fret-wank ordure. His records with The Fog restored some fire to the din, but the Jurassic noise he stirred in June was truly a marvel of wa-wa stomping fury; fat waves of fried frazzle, heavy enough to level entire landscapes.
The final reason to catch these shows is that they're all meant to publicize the somewhat recent re-release of the group's long out-of-print first three albums, fecund pools of fiery creativity that need speedy re-introducing to the indierock canon. Dinosaur hasn't returned to trade on past glories, but rather to set the record straight—that there was never anything slack about these (genius) motherfuckers.