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Dinosaur Jr. at the Music Box, Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

On Wednesday night, Dinosaur Jr. was about to perform their 1988 album ‘Bug’ in its entirety at the Music Box, but before the trio participated in a short interview with Henry Rollins of many fames (Black Flag being probably the most obvious one), who obviously knew them very well, showing his genuine and enthusiastic Dinosaur Jr. fan-side. This rock-star reunion looked like a wearing-your-idol-shirt contest: Rollins had a Black Sabbath shirt, Mascis a ‘I love Tony Harrison’ one, and wasn’t Murphy wearing a Bush hoodie? 

Rollins has been doing this many times, following the band on tour on the East Coast then on the West Coast, but not showing a sign of getting tired of his new role. A few minutes earlier, I had seen him entering the theater lobby and having to show his ID to security guards who didn’t know who he was. ‘I’m the interviewer of the band’, he said,… what? Henry Rollins still have to prove who he is?

 But he certainly knows how to renew his interview questions every night to keep the conversation interesting, asking first how they had influenced each others, Barlow answering how Mascis had given him more structure and suggested he played bass instead of guitar, Mascis commenting on Murph’s drumming being ‘all over the place but great’. It was a lot question of how this original lineup was the one which was getting ‘the best of all of you’, and was an understood chemistry not achieved with anyone else, and how the loudness was part of the message of the music.

 Mascis talked a little bit about his work with pedals being an on-going investigative process, and about the songwriting process which was 'like fishing', saying he generally plays to see if a good riff comes.

 Rollins, who was continuing his fan-boy character, said they had never released a bad album, were still writing songs when many bands just pretend to go back to their roots because they have in fact run out of ideas, whereas Barlow evoked a show in California in 1987 when nobody showed up so that they had to cancel the show. 

But the crowd was becoming impatient, shouting things like ‘we want the music’, during the interview. In the first rows, the die-hard fans, wearing Dinosaur Jr. shirts (but also Black Flag and No Age), the same guys who were about to sing along all the lyrics of all the songs, were giving kind of a hard time to Rollins, who was nevertheless totally built to handle the situation as he really wanted to carry on his interview. For these guys it was probably a journey in time, they really wanted to hear these songs live again, for me it was different, I was kind of new to Dinosaur Jr.

 Although I was totally enjoying Rollins, and was one of the few who would have listened to him for hours, finally came the music, the loud ferocious sound, full of J Mascis’ multiple pedal effects, Lou Barlow’ bass and Emmett Murphy’s drums attacks; it was a dissonant beast, building distortion over distortion, liberating itself into a weird psychedelia.

 It was a sort of indoor thunderstorm, designed to make your ear bleed and built with the half-circle of large amps that was surrounding Mascis. I was constantly removing my earplugs and putting them back on, to get a real taste of what was going on, and it was truly a ravaging sound, Motörhead-loud, as Rollins put it.

 However, Mascis looked impassible among this chaos, his long white hair giving him this calm and withdrawn hippie bonhomie, while singing his almost inaudible lyrics with detachment among all this loudness. At the opposite side of the stage, Barlow was an energetic warrior, side by side with Murphy’s explosive drumming, he was violently moving and handling his bass, making all kinds of arm strokes, using his instrument as a prolongation of his own body.

 They, as promised, played all the songs from ‘Bug’, but other songs as they opened with ‘Thumb’, and also played ‘Out There’, ‘Yeah we know’, ‘Feel the Pain’, ‘In a Jar’. There were many trance-like guitar solos, going into more complexity each time, hard to follow, with aggressive lines or heavy metal-like riffs, hardly letting the catchy repetitive poppy melodies escape form the overwhelmed-by-distortion uproar. If there were quieter moments on the album or anywhere else, as I was standing in the front rows, I did not hear them, everything was drenched into an impenetrable universe of dense, thick and distorted sound.

 They ended the first set with the monumental paranoia of ‘Don’t’, so loud, epic and so end-of-the-world-devastation that it basically annihilated all the other ones. Lou Barlow said that the song had taken his voice the night before, so they got the help of two friends for the visceral vocals screamed in despair.

 Interesting enough, it is the only song that is not sung with that usual detachment and also the only one ‘sung’ by Barlow, endlessly repeating the raging lyrics ‘Why don’t you like me?’ on an album released just before Mascis kicked him out from the band. But on Wednesday night, all this seemed to have been forgotten a long time ago.

 They came back for an encore and four more songs, ending their set with their Cure’s cover ‘Just like Heaven’, announced by Barlow who screamed ‘We love the Cure!’ and then, the men of Dinosaur Jr. abruptly left the stage with a brief 'thanks a lot' and a few goodbyes.

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