The weekend after Thanksgiving is usually a good time to reconnect with people you’ve not seen in a while, and for a certain segment of the concert-going demographic, chances are good that if you went to the Dinosaur Jr/Lemonheads show last weekend you probably did a see a familiar face or two in the crowd that you hadn’t seen in a while, unless they were at the Dylan show. This bill was a pretty inspired combo of early 90s greatness, back when Pixies and Throwing Muses and Belly and Buffalo Tom and Blake Babies and Come etc really put Boston on the indie rock landscape, nationally and globally.
As J Mascis laconically mentioned early in the show, this tour was in support of their new record that came out earlier this year, but like many plans Covid derailed any chance of a real tour to support Sweep It Into Space when it dropped last April. To underscore the weirdness of a post-pandemic landscape for a professional band, they released the live Emptiness At The Sinclair last month, a live record recorded in front of no one aside from the technical crew who did audio and video, unless you count the fans at home who were watching the performance via live stream.
Tonight would be a lot different as they played the largest hometown show in a long time (not counting opening for Foo Fighters across the street at Fenway), and people got what they came for, loud rock songs served up with energy (hello Murph and Lou; the way he picks his bass strings you’d expect a small pile of sawdust at his feet from scraping the body) and copious guitar solos (J, who even busted out a bass guitar solo on “Garden.”)
A band notorious for their volume, the mix tonight sounded great and to be honest ear plugs, while always a good idea, weren’t required. The exception to that rule was when J hit some pedal that must have been emblazoned with “JET ENGINE” and the dBs popped up significantly, especially on “Kracked” after right the Sonic Youth part.
A decent chunk of the new record was aired and it sounds like a Dinosaur Jr record, mid-tempo rockers with somewhat inscrutable lyrics (eg, “I Met The Stones” isn’t about Jagger) and jaggedly liquid guitar solos. Mascis never gives much in the way of stage banter, but just before “Garden” Lou took the opportunity to enlist the crowd to join him in singing “Happy Birthday” to his twelve year old son Hendrix, noting that he was spared the embarrassment of being dragged on stage. A sweet moment all around.
Highlights were the 1-2 punch of “Kracked” and “Sludgefeast,” co-joined songs in the same manner as “Heartbreaker” > “Living Loving Maid” or “Waitin’ For The Bus” > “Jesus Just Left Chicago”; it’s impossible to just play the first song without going right into the second. Overall, the semi-hometown crowd got a great closer to the tour.
Before Dinosaur Jr got on stage with those weirdly hideous humanoid shapes as decoration, Evan Dando (the de-facto Head) and Mikey Jones and Farley Glavin played a pretty strong set that arched across their career, aside from omitting their punk roots as documented on the first three records via Taang! About halfway through the set, local slinger Chris Brokaw (also a ‘Head on the 2019 tour) came on for second guitar duties and Vineyard resident Griffin McMahon manned the keyboards. Dando looks pretty close to how he’s always looked, a neat trick if you can pull it off; had he not had a Les Paul around his neck, his weathered corduroy blazer, plaid shirt and slip on Vans may have mistaken him as a college professor of English Lit.
His rich voice sounded pristine too, whether it was singing well-known tracks like “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” or lesser-known covers such as the Bevis Frond deep cut of “Old Man Blank” that closed the set. It was a little perverse not playing any of the band’s major hits (“Into Your Arms” or “It’s A Shame About Ray”) but Evan’s always done whatever suits him.
Ryley Walker got things going as people shuffled into the venue, and I’ve seen him play a few times with a band but never just by himself. With work boots, a waffleprint shirt and glasses that look a lot like my brother’s from the late ’70s he could have passed as a stage hand, until you heard him play guitar. And damn can he play guitar. Loosely steeped in roots music, he can twirl into psych, blues and even sub-Saharan African blues like some lost Tuareg wanderer. His stage banter is as entertaining as his music, and he made some funny comments about drop D tuning and Berklee students and how he just cheats by using open tuning. If you get a chance to see him, either solo or with his band, don’t pass it up.
Primarily based in Boston, Massachusetts, Tim Bugbee is no stranger to traveling throughout the country or overseas to capture the best live music photos.