Everybody knows that BYT loves (the) 1990s. 1980s Electro revival is so early Oughts, polka dots are slimming, and now that it’s cold we can use a grunge comeback as an excuse to leave our flannel PJs on all day. Even though Dinosaur Jr. started in the 80s, they helped define what the decade was supposed to be about, which was apparently like, ironic detachment or whatever. So of course we jumped at the chance to cover their new incarnation, playing for the first time in DC since their album came out in May. J Mascis, Lou Barlow and original drummer “Murph” Murphy put aside long stale personality differences to tour in 2005 and when that went swimmingly, they made Beyond, The record was probably supposed to be a bigger hit, this generation’s Permanent Vacation even, but nevertheless it was great, arguably better than anything either Lou or J have done since the late 90s indie-rock market collapse. It’s not that they updated the sound, J still rips the same woozy fuzzy solos and Lou still writes lyrics about love that make you feel gullible for being moved by them. It’s more that the years and history between this and “Living All Over Me” have just turned the disaffected irony of their “ear-bleeding country,” into real poignancy.
Here are some impressions from the reunion.
What are these kids doing here? I mean I know the Black Cat is one of the few places a teenager can go in DC after 9pm that doesn’t suck, but I was definitely expecting more of a wine and cheese nostalgia crowd. Is Our Band Could Be Your Life on the required reading list this semester or something? They’re mingling oddly with the couples who haven’t been to a show since DC Space closed. One of them behind me in the crowd says, “There are some straight-up Dads here haha.” Seems a little unfair since the headliner’s actually are their dad’s age, but I guess it’s better they’re here rather than running around out on the street or Panicking at the Disco or some such nonsense. Plus they have way more energy than the old fogies, dancing and clapping once the Dinosaur Senior comes on. One even gets tossed out towards the end of the night for daring to bodysurf WHFStival style. The insistence on authentic 90s experiences is admirable, but, still, hey, get off my lawn!
2. Dead Confederate
Look, I know it’s hard out there for a new young band struggling to get their name out and get people to notice them. But sometimes there’s such a thing as too much professionalism. Dead Confederate has hit on a unique formula (moody grandiose lyrics, slide guitar, swooping keyboards and lots of bashing on crash symbols at a song’s climax) that is effective, if a little cloying after a whole set. But the industrial lights and smog machine, a little area cordoned off in front of the stage with police tape so that their lighting guru can flip switches and drop the little Stonehenge down or something, it’s just too contrived and posed to come off right, especially opening for a band that defined blasé rock-stardom. Fitsum loved them though, so it’s possible I’m just grumpy because random teenagers keep snickering at my khaki shorts and Tevas. Fiddlesticks!
3. Awesome Color
One lighting scheme and three instruments were all these kids needed to clear the smog from the stage and the audience’s ears. Their songs are deceptively simple, usually only a single riff or two, with lead singer Michael (Michael Awesome of course, since what would a 90s revival be without matching last names?) cooing simple repetitive incantations that often follow the guitar line over Allison’s Ginger Baker impression. Women drummers are the new women bassists, but she beat the crap out of those things. The bass player (Awesome Derek, flipping the convention) was obviously elected to generate between-song banter while the other two tuned and rested. “So, writer’s strike huh?” he murmured to the responsive crowd. “No late night TV…let me hear your best heckles.” Before anyone can even say anything, the band launches into another explosive four minute raga. Throughout the show Derek kept giving shout-outs to the various DC musical heroes that were on hand, including Division of Laura Lee, the Apes, and Bad Brains. Most of them were probably there for Dinosaur Jr but they were lucky to catch these guys on their first real tour. Ever wonder what would happen if you played Sleep or Goblin Cock on 45 rpm while drinking Jolt in a Bathing Ape store? Me neither, but it turned out wicked…um…Awesome.
4. Literal Dinosaurs
After J’s pedals get set up (a lengthy process that required at least four roadies from different eras of the 90s including skate-punk guy who made the wah-wah pedal sound perfect), the band sauntered out and immediately launched into my favorite song from the new album (Almost Ready) followed by my favorite song from the 80s (Repulsion). They looked relaxed and Lou even smiled a couple of times, pushing that sassy hair out of his face and providing back-up vocals like a trooper. Trios have a tendency to sound thin, but they’ve always managed to fill that out by Lou strumming whole chords on the bass and Murph’s busy drumming. But the centerpiece is always the guitar, and that semi-circle of Marshalls.
Standing directly in front of J Mascis and his towering amps while he plays a solo is like (choose one)
a. Being chewed by an angry goat whose teeth have been replaced with cashmere sweaters
b. Going down a waterslide that suddenly drops off into landslide on big rock candy mountain.
c. Being punched in the face by a wind giant (since you can actually feel the air blasting out of the speakers at times)
d. Getting crushed by one of those car-crushers at the junkyard into a little cube so tightly that you turn inside out and become an airplane.
e. All of the above except with more pot haze (yes that’s right somehow people managed to smoke up in the most vigilant club on earth. Hi Five, stoners!)
I swear I didn’t drink that much but the noise of J’s guitar was so massive that I was stumbling around like a wino by the time they played “Feel The Pain.” You can tell a band is sick of a song if they play it double-time, and Lou looked sort-of bemused at having to help sing the hit that he had no part in, but that song still holds up as one of the most catchy crossovers of the last decade. Plus it got the crowd moving, though not enough to start a circle-pit when they ended the encore with what sounded like a Deep Wound song (the band that J and Lou formed in 1982). It’s rare for a band to survive a quarter century of making music together and still be able to play songs from both ends of the career with passion, intensity, and a sense of humor. When that trick gets pulled off, you know you are seeing something timeless.
all photos: the always on the ball Fitsum Belay.
see full set here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sexyfitsum/sets/72157603329230401/