By: Eric Podolsky
Dinosaur Jr. :: 12.15.11 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco, CA
Those in the Bay Area looking to satisfy their hunger for some crushing, sonic-assault fretwork knew where to find it on this Thursday night, as legendary post-punk guitarist J Mascis and his band Dinosaur Jr. were in town and ready to blow some eardrums. But this was no ordinary Dino Jr. show, oh no, this mini tour was a celebration of their landmark 1988 album Bug, which the band performed in its entirety, but not before being interviewed onstage by none other than Henry Rollins, punk’s own master of the spoken word.
The night started civilly enough with Rollins giving the band his own enthusiastic introduction, and was followed by an interesting Q & A session that touched on a number of topics: the rarity of soloing in punk music (and how J Mascis pulls it off brilliantly), the excitement of playing in the legendary, acoustically-perfect Fillmore (“it's hard to have a bad night here”), the importance of the rhythm section being locked in underneath Mascis’ barrage of distortion, and Mascis’ perfectionism (he wrote every drum and bass part for every song on Bug). Rollins’ assertive questions and commanding presence were contrasted by Mascis’ droll, simple answers and unassuming persona, though this would all change once he strapped on his guitar.
After a short break, the band came out revved up and ready to rock. Dwarfed by towers of Marshall stacks, Mascis transformed into a true force of nature, a shaman of sorts churning out super thick n’ crunchy bursts of sound, while bassist Lou Barlow (strumming chords, no less) and drummer Murph laid down a tight foundation -- essentially the canvas for Mascis to paint on. His aggressively loud, ragged playing was cathartic in its absoluteness -- the distortion washed over us, and we were taken away.
After playing two newer songs to warm things up, the band launched into side one of Bug, and the crowd and band alike threw themselves into the familiar music. Opening with “Freak Scene,” Mascis immediately showed us that he is in a league of his own when it comes to soloing -- using feedback and raw sonic distortion, he can contort sound to his liking, making statements with his guitar outside of the realm of tonality. This contrasted with his mopey, mumbling vocals, which delivered his tuneful lyrics like the shy kid in the back of the class. These disparate contrasts of wimpy melodies and ferocious guitar define the sound of Dino Jr, and the crowd lapped up every moment.
Adding to his own legend, Mascis also showed us that he can shred more traditional, melodic solos just as well as he can experiment in the outer realms of feedback. His sprawling, grandiose guitar work on the catchy “They Always Come” solidified him as a true dirty rock god in my book. Things barreled forward at a furious pace from there, with Murph pounding the skins and Barlow chugging out bass lines and chords underneath the sonic whirlwind. The set reached a roaring, freak-out peak with Bug’s final song, “Don’t”, in which a fan was brought on stage to scream the song’s one angsty line (“Why don’t you like me?) over and over while the band climaxed in a shredding, ferocious double-time barrage of noise and aggression before ending the set in a hypnotic feedback loop.
|J. Mascis by Malzkorn|
After a heavy set which essentially blew out our brains, minds and ears, it was nice to have an encore that showcased their more “mainstream” 90s days; namely, their two major label “hits,” “Out There” and “Feel the Pain.” These poppier tunes saw Mascis clean up his tone, upon which he proceeded to straight kill us with a searing metal shred-fest that inspired pangs of nostalgia to well up in me for the days when MTV actually showcased awesome music like this. To close the show, Mascis barreled us over with a final bout of sonic assault that left my head ringing for days after. We poured out of The Fillmore feeling cleansed by the power of electric music, knowing right well that there is no band on this earth that can do what Dinosaur Jr. does. May the slacker ethos live forever!
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