Friday, June 24, 2011

Freak Scene

The trend of bands playing classic albums live continued this week as Dinosaur Jr. stopped into the Paradise in Boston to rip through their excellent third album, 1988's Bug. The tour had a little twist to it, though, as punk godfather Henry Rollins has been joining the band at each stop to conduct an interview on stage about the early days of Dino and the making of Bug. Even though Mascis is on record as saying he's not a fan of the album, Bug certainly holds a place of esteem in the hearts and lacerated eardrums of indie rock fans everywhere. The band recently re-released it on purple cassette to coincide with this tour.

Opening act OFF! is a veritable punk supergroup, with Keith Morris (ex-Circle Jerks, Black Flag) on vocals, Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) on bass, Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides) on guitar and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes) on drums. Rocking a skullet and his familiar dreads, Morris noted that the Boston show was an SST reunion of sorts, since Dino was once on the legendary punk label with Black Flag and Redd Kross in the '80s. There was hardly any room on the stage for the band to move around because of the massive amp stacks, but Morris led OFF! through a 25-minute set of blistering punk including "Jeffrey Lee Pierce," which was dedicated to the late Gun Club frontman and former roommate of Morris'. It was an impressive performance, with no song exceeding 2 minutes in length.

A short while later, Rollins and Dino Jr. members J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph took their places on stools in front of the stage. Rollins conducted a 15-minute interview in which Murph did most of the talking, with Mascis and Barlow chiming in from time to time. Barlow credited labelmates Sonic Youth as being responsible for helping Dino succeed in the early days. Rollins asked why the band played so loud and Mascis replied in his typically low-key manner: "It just seemed like the right thing to do."

After the interview and a short break, Dinosaur Jr. launched into the rock, starting with "In a Jar" and "The Wagon" before Mascis deadpanned, "All right, we're going to play Bug now." And play it they did, starting off with lead track "Freak Scene." Murph had some difficulties with his drum kit staying intact, but the band was in fine form. As always, Mascis didn't say much between songs, preferring to continue on. Barlow offered a few quips, but his voice was shot, making his comments somewhat unintelligible (to me, anyway).

The band was super-loud as usual, but it wasn't as oppressively loud as when I saw them at the Middle East a few years back (no doubt because of the lower ceiling at the Middle East downstairs). Mascis' solos were fluid and ripping, while Murph pounded with precision and Barlow thrashed away on his bass. "Budge" and "The Post" were particularly mind-blowing. Barlow couldn't sing album closer "Don't," which normally requires him to screech "Why don't you like me?" over and over, so he pulled up two volunteers from the audience to handle the vocals. The two gentlemen in question did fine, although one of the microphones couldn't handle his death metal yowl and was overwhelmed with feedback and static. It didn't matter, because the band was playing so loud you could barely hear the singers, anyway.

Dino Jr. returned for an encore, playing the post-Lou cut "Out There" and the classic "The Lung" before calling it a night. The band certainly looks 22 years older, but it sounds just as vital and visceral as it did when Bug first came out.

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