Love is a dangerous thing. When you have listened to a band so intently and for so long a time as I have Dinosaur Jr., it is almost counterintuitive to imagine seeing them in the flesh. Learning their lyrical cadences, committing to memory the anatomy of each single and its relation to the corpus of albums, has become a secondary currency in my life. But, there was no knowing how years of acquaintance with the band’s studio presence would translate in action.
Dinosaur Jr. seemed to address exactly such sentiments with their opener. As J. Mascis drawled impassively, “Sure you know just what is in store / Wait and see if I’ll behave,” a palpable ease flushed through the crowd. Whereas mere minutes before, the dark, unadorned interior of the Hi-Fi had the feel of a vast waiting room claustrophobic with impatience, Thumb’s sprawling riff quickly unified the mass of sweaty bodies in hushed awe.
Photo: Rafi Alam
Leading with a number from 1991’s Green Mind, an album released in the immediate wake of bassist Lou Barlow’s departure, set a curious precedent. Barlow propelled himself carelessly around the stage, his frenzied energy a veiled mockery of Mascis’ inertia, which saw him standing fixedly in front of monolithic Marshall stacks, as though theirs was the only company he needed to keep. He stepped up to the mic when songs required it of him – his voice unchanged, retaining the nervous edge of decades past – and otherwise spent the set, eyes closed to the bright lights, teasing out solos that erupted from a familiar chorus here, an unfinished phrase there.
Transitioning seamlessly between Green Mind and their latest offering, I Bet On Sky, in the first part of the set, a certain timelessness to the band’s aesthetic began to seep through. Songs bled into one another, forming a coalescent sound that defied the passage of time. Sustained, wailing guitar hooks echoed the yearning hope in Mascis’ voice. Age had not displaced the youthful anxieties and desires inherent in The Wagon, and when Mascis laid out in verse his futile plans for love under those bright lights – still losing pitch on the higher notes as he did on record more than ten years ago – I was fifteen again, naive and hungry to live the tales told through supermarket-bought headphones.
The band’s ambiguous dynamic weaved another layer of meaning throughout the performance, although Murph looked oblivious to any discernible tension; his lips constantly curled in satisfaction, flinching occasionally at the force of a particularly powerful beat. The surprise appearance of Training Day, originally by Deep Wound (the hardcore band founded by Mascis and Barlow), left the audience cold and served as little beyond a bitter memento of happier times. Stranger yet was the sight of Mascis and Barlow sharing singing duties on Freak Scene, which contains clear themes about the pair’s enmity, written from Mascis’ perspective. Nonetheless, the crowd gushed at the commencing chords of the three minutes which have come to define Dinosaur Jr., surging forth to fill every last space surrounding the stage. Funnily enough, Freak Scene was the song that brought the most people together; arms could be seen draped across shoulders in all directions.
Filing towards the exit with the noisy embers of Sludgefeast settling on our skin, my mind raced to pick up the pieces of the night – Barlow’s half-hearted jokes, a man dropping his beer to cheer on Forget the Swan, the way Mascis deftly retuned his guitar between each song – for safekeeping. By morning, I had already missed many of those pieces, and in time, all that will be left is this review.