BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR THE INQUIRER Perhaps the first sign you are ‘getting on’ is the startling realization that, despite your heretofore vehement protestations to the contrary, you are quite simply not immune to nostalgia. While the nostalgia of preceding generations may have been sepia-toned, Rockwellian tableaus or the Brill-creamed cheeseburgers in paradise of American Graffiti, these days nostalgia looks like a long-haired dude in a ski cap and a droopy metal tee worn semi-ironically, a la Seattle 1991. Such is the vibe of Dinosaur Jr.’s comeback album and tour, which touched down at the Trocadero Tuesday night, sponsored by Camel.
The tour boasts the original, seminal line-up of guitarist-singer J. Mascis, bassist/madman Lou Barlow and drummer Murph. Back in the 90s, Dinosaur Jr.’s calling card was a unique hybrid of ungodly loud post-punk American rock music: think acid-washed Classic Rock writ dirty, ecstatic, and louder than bombs. That hybrid was a direct result of the original line-up’s unique chemistry — J. Mascis’ stoner-dude ski-bum laissez faire vocals and hair-wagging guitar heroics; Barlow’s thwarted-nerd-going-postal bass playing (not to mention the odd lo-fi psych-folk gem he contributed per album, which contrasted nicely with Mascis’ Hammer Of The Gods shred-and-whine); and Murph, well, he just always beat the drums like they owed him money. Lots of it. Still does, too.
They all still got it: Mascis may be grey as a mule, but he can still play a guitar solo that sounds like an avalanche coming down the mountain; Barlow, who left Dinosaur Jr. after the third album and went onto become the Nick Drake of Grunge, played Tuesday night like he was in dire need of an exorcism, summoning vast and bitter reservoirs of teen angst with method actor aplomb. Much like Dinosaur’s career in the 90s, the new album Beyond, starts out impressively but overstays its welcome. That was not the case Tuesday night, when the band turned in a tight, hour-plus primer in Dino 101: the sludgy, doom-struck pop tones of “Little Fury Thing,” the blazing wah-wah metallica and tack-sharp hairpin turns of “Kracked” and “Sludgefeast.” Unfortunately, “Freak Scene,” the band’s breakout college radio anthem, was rushed and blurry, it’s crucial moment — when the band stops wailing on a dime and Mascis sings in heartbreakingly earnest fashion, “When I need a friend it’s still you” and the band kicks back in for a truly hellacious outro — was sadly anti-climactic.
As a frontman, the notoriously inscrutable Mascis still has all the charisma of that raisin he used to sing about on “In A Jar,” the one sitting on his window sill that said “please don’t tap me on the head.” Dinosaur Jr. arguably blew it the day in 1991 that Mascis — then in the midst of one of his mute periods — refused to utter a word to Gina Arnold, the Option magazine writer who was following the band around on tour in the hopes of writing a cover story. In frustration she turned her attention on the other band in the stinky van: Nirvana.
Here’s hoping that local-boys-making good Dr. Dog, who opened the show, don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Because, while it’s too soon to tell if history will remember them as merely the sons of Blind Melon or park them in the same hallowed ground reserved for masters of bearded, bleary-eyed Americana — think The Band at the height of its powers — the fact remains, despite atrocious taste in sunglasses, these guys are onto something. Something good.
Lastly, there was a certain irony to an event sponsored by Camel held in a smoke-free venue, as was the case Tuesday night. The grand Vaudevillian friezes of the Troc were bedecked with blinking, twin-humped neon signage subliminally planting the urge to commit an act — smoke ’em if you got ’em — that is perfectly legal yet entirely forbidden was nostalgia-in-reverse, a glimpse of the future where the simulacrum will enable us to enjoy all the rich and smoky signifiers of vice, without all the risk. I, for one, look forward to missing that.
[photo by JONATHAN VALANIA]