I have been a Dinosaur Jr. fan for, oh, closing on 20 years at this point. Last year, when the original trio of Murph, J Mascis, and Lou Barlow reunited to tour behind their Merge Records re-issue series, i was excited. Unfortunately i delegated responsibility for buying advance tickets to a somewhat flaky friend, and the show sold out without me. When a spring tour was announced a while back, i rushed at the opportunity to grab tickets. I am so glad i did, because Dinosaur Jr. still rock the good rock!
The Minions filed into The Variety Playhouse shortly before 8:30 to grab a nice comfy seat with a good view of the stage. And a table -- very important to get a table to set your beer down on. As i sat there taking in the slowly growing crowd, i noticed that the stage was full of amplifiers. No, i mean full -- probably close to 20 were on the stage at this point. I was glad that i had thought to bring earplugs!
Shortly thereafter a group of long-haired rock dudes took the stage. They
briefly introduced themselves as Priestess from Montreal, Quebec (although
the speaker did not have an accent), and then they tore into a half hour set
of old-fashioned heavy metal! Reference points were Black Sabbath (of course)
with a sludgy, fast, blues sound, but with Queen-like squealing arpeggios during
the guitar solos. The drumming was a furious thudding, and both of the guitarists
sang somewhat melodically.
Overall, i was pleasantly entertained watching the hair fly as Priestess head-banged their way through their set. (They must use lots of conditioner in order to keep their hair from getting tangled!) Well, i was generally entertained except for one 5-minute spot in the middle of their set: the drum solo. It has been years since i have seen a 5-minute drum solo, and honestly it is not anything that i have missed in my life. Oh sure, their drummer was competent, but i got really bored just listening to him beat his kit and try to show us how talented he is.
Aside from the drum solo, Priestess were a fun opener. I don't know if i would rush out to see them headline, but i wouldn't skip out on another opening slot either. I wonder, though, since they do play music straight out of 1986, are they doing it as a joke, or are they really people who idolize Guns N Roses? Hmmm... Oh, and for merchandise they were selling t-shirts, CDs, and shot glasses. How heavy metal is that?
A very short intermission later, during which some of the amps were cleared
away, and Washington DC's Dead Meadow took the stage. This was a three-piece
band that included a bassist who jumped around like a maniac, a bearded drummer,
and a guitarist/vocalist. They walked out to a sitar drone, fog erupted
from a machine behind the drums, and they proceeded to play psychedelic
rock. The vocals were kind of Britpoppish, which made me think of them as being
more of a Verve or Spiritualized influenced act, as opposed to a Grateful Dead
or Jefferson Airplane type of psychedelic band.
During the first half of their set, they were plagued by technical difficulties. Odd popping sounds emanated from the sound system, and the voice was so undermixed that i could barely hear it. At this point, they sounded like Bardo
Pond trying to do Spiritualized tunes, and i was bored so i went and waited to use the restroom. (Most Dinosaur Jr. fans are male, and they were drinking beer, so going to the restroom involved a lot of waiting in line...)
When i got back, the technical issues had been resolved, including the voice
levels. This last half of their set was very enjoyable. The melodies buried
under their distortion were rather pleasant, and the vocalist did a fine
job. I enjoyed these last three songs tremendously, and wish that their whole
set had sounded so well. Ah well -- that was the only real sound system trouble
all night, so that's not too bad really.
Forty-five minutes after starting, Dead Meadow walked offstage to the same sitar drone that had ushered them on. I admit to being curious. Based on the strength of the last half of their set, i would go see them again if they played Atlanta. They were interesting.
A few more amps were cleared out, leaving 5 giant Marshalls for J. Mascis and 3 huge Marshall bass amps for Lou Barlow. And then we had a long intermission while The Variety Playhouse filled up. Dinosaur Jr. took the stage at just after 10:30 and played until just before midnight.
Dinosaur Jr. are loud. They are boisterous. They sing catchy tunes with lots of guitar, and i enjoyed the living heck out of it. I am terrible with song titles, but i know that they played a couple off of You're Living All Over Me, and the songs i did recognize sounded great.
J. Mascis is looking a little the worse for wear these days. His long hair is gray now, and he doesn't seem to move all that much as he plays guitar. Lou Barlow, on the other hand, looks like he has been hitting the gym. The man is buff these days. And then there was Murph -- an odd bald man in glasses beating the tar out of some drums.
One thing i did notice is that although J. Mascis obviously had a lot of pedals on stage, he used them sparingly. One song might be buried under tremolo for a while, then clean guitar sounds would come through. Or he might use chorus for a bit, but just a bit. It wasn't a wall of shoegazery noise (which i like, mind you) but instead was an impressive display of subtle distortion technique.
I also like watching Lour Barlow ham it up on stage. He plays with his bass down near his knees, and pounds at it theatrically.
In fact, all three band members seemed to be having a good time. The crowd certainly was. There were people blowing bubbles, illicit smoking, and a guy standing in the aisle playing air guitar along with J. Mascis. It was a crazy good time, and they certainly kept the crowd entertained.
I said i am unsure of the titles of the songs they played, but i can name one. For the second encore they walked on stage and played their Cure cover, Just Like Heaven. I always liked how Lou's death metal growl of "You" contrasted with J.'s more Robert Smith-like singing on this version. And i loved how on the album, it just suddenly stopped. Well, live they did just that: Lou bellowing his line with great enthusiasm, J. drawling this words in counterpoint. And then ... it just stopped, and with a quick "one two three" from Murph, they moved on while the crowd was still cheering. Great fun.
Overall, i enjoyed this show tremendously. Dinosaur Jr. sounded great, and i had a lot of fun. If you are a fan, you should definitely go check them out on this tour. And kudos go out to Merge Records, for re-releasing these lost classics.