The holidays are a great time to be with family, but black Friday is a great time to be with Dinosaur Jr. Being near their genesis, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Boston is essentially their hometown show. It’s a family gathering, and one of the loudest. No arguing, but the amps are blaring so bombastic that my ear plugs battle to defend. The massive sonic waves made the house of blues feel like a basement show. The band stood close to the front of the stage, a mere 10 ft. of stage being used with them wedged between speaker stacks. Each band manner has equal light and presence, a straight line of thunder. It was a simple stage with no banner or glossy stage effects—better for keeping the focus on the jams. Some bright, blue lights shimmered through the wizard-like mane of lead man J Mascis, but they weren’t relying on costume changes to keep the show entertaining.
It’s such a casual affair that Lou Barlow has chosen to play in his socks. Slipping across stage left lightly, he appeared blissfully lost in his bass lines. His massive mop curls bounced to the slow metal-tinged beat like a Neanderthal ballet. He lumbered about with tasty riffs and pointed toes. He moved as an extension of his machine, each note eliciting a jolt like a struck nerve. It’s an emphatic stroll of a style that prompts the audience to get into the music just as much.
On the opposite side of the drum kit, Mascis’ voice slow-growled through the set. Hits like “Start Choppin’” and “Feel The Pain” from their major label years of the 1990s garnered as much head-boppin’ in the crowd as material from this year’s Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not. Fluidly riding across his fret board, Mascis put the crowd under his control with spells of speed metal and classic rock stirred in his eccentric cauldron. He appeared as though he were in his safe place, a space he’d created with Marshall amps surrounding him. Set on their sides and showing degrees of battery, the stacks belong in the MASS MoCa. They’re the unspoken fourth member of the band.
Drummer Murph was flying across his arrangements like a mad man. Rattling quick snare rolls in a black t-shirt and shorts, he appeared a doppelgänger for the Descendents’ Bill Stevenson. Being so close to crowd, his versatility was more visible than most shows. His wrists moving rapidly with minute precision to land beats of stoner, punk, jazz, and everything in between. The band broke up in the late nineties, and hasn’t always liked each other, but that’s family; and they definitely like playing together. It’s another example of music breaking barriers and building bridges.
During an encore that included their cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” the band finished the night with a track from where it all began. “Mountain Man” from their 1985 debut Dinosaur allowed the band to get deep into their noisy roots. Barlow moved like a possessed man. On his last rhythms, he played it to the ground and literally crawled out from underneath his guitar strap letting the reverb growl until long after he left the stage. Ultimately a stagehand tapped off his pedal to close out the warm night with family and friends.
Fellow Amherst alum, Buffalo Tom opened the night mentioning that it had been many years since last show with Dinosaur Jr. Mascis produced their first couple of albums in the eighties, so there’s a familiarity. Their sound is early indie, akin to R.E.M. and other melodic rock bands of the college rock era. With a brief stage time, they kept chitchat to a minimum to give fans as many tracks as possible. Lead Bill Janovitz showboated with Pete Townshend-style windmills and labored, throaty lyrics. Near the end of their set, they invited a guest to the stage and Mascis emerged for a two tracks, one including “The Bus” from their eponymous 1988 debut. Upon his departure, bass player Chris Colbourn mumbled a jokingly “Thanks J, and we’ll pay you … uh … soon for producing those records.” Money owed over a couple of decades? This is definitely a family get-together.