The iconic Dinosaur Jr are practically the living embodiment of alt-punk history. They came up in an eighties college town, Amherst (though famously, “I Didn’t Go To College”), with acclaim in their underground scene and beyond. There was an early nineties boom that was probably when you heard of them. There were in-band acrimonies. They finally ended as the alt-nineties ended. They reunited in full force in the twenty-first century, first playing their old stuff, then adding to their legacy with great new albums. And they still respect, not shy away from, the biggest old material, bringing hit breakthrough Where You Been and more to Music Hall of Williamsburg for six nights in Brooklyn, starting Friday, December 1st.
A few things were clearly noticeable from the get-go. The whole performance was being filmed, including a rare Music Hall (QRO venue review) cordoned-off photo pit for cameramen, and extra sound guys in the VIP stairwell. And there were VIPs, from both balconies to a little-used section beneath one of them (props to the security person who shrunk it as the show started, to give more room to the regular crowd). And yes, the crowd was older, for this was an album celebrating its thirtieth anniversary – there were a few attempts at mosh pits by the fewer young folks in attendance, that were not so welcomed by the packed crowd of older folks, who maybe hadn’t been to a standing room club show in a long time.
And yes, this was the album after singer/guitarist J Mascis fired singer/bassist Lou Barlow (though before also firing drummer Murph). Their break-up has been documented everywhere from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life to Barlow’s own song “The Freed Pig” in his post-Dinosaur outfit Sebadoh. Yet the initial new millennium reunion brought back together the original three, to play their original line-up eighties material, before extending to new songs and even stuff from the nineties. As documented in their actual documentary, 2020’s Freakscene, the trio are older & wiser, and have distinctly put that all in the past, not to be reborn.
But what was wonderfully reborn was Where You Been. For many [including your correspondent], it was one of the seminal records of the early nineties alt-boom that got him or her into music, as essential as Nevermind. From the first notes of opener “Out There” (which was on the soundtrack to Wayne’s World 2, a true milestone) to breakthrough single “Start Choppin”, it’s been close to many people’s hearts (even if your copied to cassette version missed closer “I Ain’t Sayin”, so that song title appeared to be a joke…).
And it fuckin’ rocked live! Now, you knew that Dinosaur Jr rocked, from J’s ‘semi-circle of amps’ around him to Lou playing in socks (bright red on this occasion – how festive…) to Murph thrashing up front (a benefit to just being a trio is no sticking the drummer in the back). But you might have wondered if they could still rock their most successful album, live up to your rose-colored glasses view of the past. In particular, would Lou be into it? And what about all the deep cuts on Where that they’ve rarely-to-never played in decades?
Well, Lou was very into it. While J has always been the stoic one on stage, Lou is the wild one, from his thrashing hair to his socks, and this was still the case this night. Indeed, he might have been the wildest person in the building. And, for that matter, J was positively talkative this time, noting that, when he listened to the album in preparation, he had no memory of Where You Been’s “Hide” – despite it being the song with the lyrics “where you been?” Lou also apologized that they hadn’t practiced Where’s “What Else Is New?” Yet they didn’t seem down on the rarities, but rather made them special.
After the final notes of “I Ain’t Sayin”, without leaving the stage Dinosaur Jr launched into Lou’s “Garden” from their most recent record, 2021’s Sweep It Into Space (QRO review), possibly because there were obviously no Lou songs on Where. It was followed by old classic “In a Jar” (where you put me).
And then came the guest stars. Dinosaur Jr has long been a band that got many people into starting their own bands, and thus invited some of those younger folks on stage to join them. This goes back to Kevin Drew singing “The Wagon” like he did in his childhood bedroom years ago at South-by-Southwest (QRO photos), to this night. First was Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen (who recently finished their own reunion run – QRO review – once again the Brooklyn man said he lived down the street) for “Feel the Pain” from the record of the same name after Where. Then Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse came on to play guitar for “Watch the Corners” (from 2012’s I Bet On Sky – QRO review) and both sing & guitar for “Freak Scene”, which still has it’s great call & response, “Cause when I need a friend” – “It’s still you!” Later nights at Music Hall included longtime friend of the band Kurt Vile, more surprisingly Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes, actor Kevin Corrigan, Howard Stern Show producer Steve Nowicki, and even actual contemporary Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth.
Lou, J, and Murph returned for an encore of “Gargoyle” (from their 1985 self-titled-before-they-had-to-add-the-Jr Dinosaur) and their long-since-made-it-their-own cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”. It was a killer night to start a run of shows, play the classics, rock with friends, and more.