December 12, 2011
Last night's Dinosaur Jr. show at Costa Mesa's Samueli Theatre was a three-part affair, each of which seemed slightly out of place in the upscale-but-welcoming Segerstrom Center for the Arts digs. Opening act Pierced Arrows put on a punk performance more suited for the Prospector, Henry Rollins interviewed Dinosaur Jr. like they were in an MTV2 studio, and then the band ripped through the entirety of its third album Bug to a crowd that only half filled the acoustically sound room.
But while the venue may have been an unlikely choice to host the opening night of Dinosaur Jr.'s nine-day West Coast mini-tour, locals lucky enough to attend another installment of the SCFTA's Indie Band Series received an intimate evening with one of indie rock's most influential outfits and the album that once signaled for it the departure of a founding member.
After a solid Pierced Arrows set — featuring the latest in fast, heavy rock 'n' roll from Fred and Toody Cole of Portland's Dead Moon — Rollins and the three Dinosaur Jr. members took the stage for the interview.
Though the 2005 return of bassist Lou Barlow and drummer “Murph” brought back together the classic threesome that recorded Bug in 1988, the album remains frontman J. Mascis' least favorite, mostly because of the bad memories associated with its recording. During the interview, however, Rollins either ignored or was oblivious to this fact and asked the band a series of Bug-related questions that were met with awkward silence and, when lucky, uncomfortable answers.
“Our relationship as a band had really deteriorated by that time,” Barlow says of recording the album. “We weren't speaking much.”
Twenty-three years must have buried the hatchet, because the band's ensuing performance of Bug in its entirety was nothing short of blazing, with Barlow and Murph coalescing as a blistering rhythm section and Mascis nonchalantly presiding over the complementary intricate riffage.
Self-proclaimed “triple-XL fan” Rollins had earlier referenced Dino's huge influence on the '90s rock scene, and it was easy to hear melodic glimpses of future bands like Pavement and Mudhoney in Bug's opening numbers. After the first few songs, however, it became hard to hear at all as Mascis and Co. further secured their reputation for being one of the loudest bands around.
With necessary earplugs drowning out subsequent vocals, Mascis' fretwork lay front and center, his meticulous plucking continually threatening to hypnotize the audience. Walled by three Marshall double stacks that separated him both visually and sonically from the rest of the band, he often seemed in a trance as the distortion-filled notes of his own creation filled his corner of the stage. His eyes half-closed and his long, grey hair nearly unmoving as he rocked his body side to side like a nervous 4th grader, Mascis appeared to be a sleepy wizard in a fantasy forest land.
Barlow spent much of the set thrashing around on stage, his shaggy hair covering his face as he created walls of the high-volume bass lines that once marked his departure from the band. Murph maintained sanity throughout the whole thing with well-placed drum fills and moments of beat-laden clarity that were perfectly timed respites from Mascis and Barlow's incessant shredding.
For all the noise that Dinosaur Jr. made when they played, however, it was consistently a tight mix, each note and beat specifically placed in conversation with another. And after wrapping up Bug and re-emerging for a four-song encore, these formerly feuding band members again proved why this album is so important — not only as documentation of Dino's final studio sessions before losing Barlow, but also as a testament to the three incredible musicians who have since put aside their differences in the name of rocking the fuck out.
Critical bias: I probably should have been drinking grain alcohol out of a flask in order to accurately review this one.
The crowd: Secretly cool OC dads; old, bearded secret hipsters; one thugged-out white guy who knew all the lyrics; and a lot of normal-looking folks who probably came because they saw Henry Rollins' name on the bill but seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway.
Random notebook dump: That's a shitload of Marshall stacks.
Overheard in the crowd: “Fire it up, Lou!” “Play a loud one!” was also yelled several times between songs.
In a Jar
They Always Come
Yeah We Know
Let It Ride
Keep the Glove
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.