Photo by Stephan Apicella-Hitchcock/
courtesy Sire/Warner Bros. RecordsDinosaur Jr. would have been Nirvana—history and hindsight agree—except they were insane crazy assholes, torturing one another like North Korean prison interrogators until they all snapped at once: supposedly bassist Lou Barlow spent hours sucking on the plastic eye of a stuffed animal until guitarist J Mascis just—couldn't—take—it—anymore! And that was it: after that, only the nerds and the critics cared. But they cared a lot, and now, 20 years after the Amherst, Massachusetts, trio first fused the force of hardcore with Neil Young style arena rock and superfuckingLOUDNESS, they're ready to welcome the kinder, gentler, less eye-sucking Dinosaur Jr. back.
With relatively cooler heads, grey hair in Mascis' face, and presumably thinner wallets, the band that prefigured emo by playing with heavy distortion and moping about girls is reissuing its first three albums and hitting the road. And, with families in tow, individual tour buses and professional management, drummer Murph tells us a month into the tour that it's still "a pleasant surprise the way everything is working out."
Enthusiasm and volume buried the hatchet last year when Mascis, who had been gigging around doing Stooges songs with the Asheton brothers and Mike Watt, saw Barlow at a show and asked him to come up and sing. Shortly after that, Murph, who was getting into jam bands and enjoying the holiday season at his mother's home in Colorado, got a call from some management company saying it was on.
It's reported that Barlow had apologized to Mascis before the Stooges gig, but Murph explains that he didn't really need to.
"Dino has never been like that. Everything happens with us on a very subconscious level," he says. "We were never really a band that openly hashed things out. It's totally not like the Metallica movie.
"At first, there were some tensions," he continues. "We weren't sure how it was going to go. Those guys didn't know what to expect of me because I'd been out of the loop for a while, but within the first practice they knew right away that I was dead serious."
Every review of the reunion shows we've read has taken time out to mention that Murph, who is criminally underrated as a drummer (partly because Mascis actually wrote a lot of what he plays), is knocking hell out of the old songs. To that he says, "I've been gone a long time, man. So I feel like I have a lot to make up for."
There's also the comfort of knowing that people care. Dinosaur Jr. is remembered for being unique and groundbreaking, but they stuck out as different even on the eclectic SST roster of the late '80s. The people who got their style branded it to their soul, but not that many people got it. Their first show in Orange County, on the tour for the brilliant album You're Living All Over Me, drew no one but SST employees.
"I remember just being freaked," Murph recalls. "Greg Ginn and the rest of the SST people were just standing there, arms folded and staring at us. I totally felt like it was some crazy audition to see if we could cut the mustard. That feeling took over so strongly that I wasn't even aware of how many people were there."
Murph tells us the current tour has sold out halls full of people in their early 20s, which is what happens when a buzz gets 20 years to gestate.
"I enjoy it now, I really enjoy it," he says. "Back then I was playing by the seat of my pants. I was so concerned with not fucking up a drum part, whereas now I can kick back and listen to the songs and I can execute ideas."
Jamming through the old catalog is working out, but you remember the dynamics of this band when Murph stutters a bit when asked about writing new material. "I—I don't know," he says. "Things are so different now. We're still in the midst of getting through the summer—we can't even think about what would happen."
DINOSAUR JR. PLAYS WITH ALASKA! AND DRUNK HORSE AT THE GROVE OF ANAHEIM, 2200 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 712–2700. TUES., 7:30 P.M. $26.
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