Saturday November 19 2016
A renovated chapel may not be the obvious choice of venue for the sold-out return of Dinosaur Jr, but there were some aesthetic comparisons to be made, with the ornate architecture and the stained glass windows below which assembled an audience of grungey lags and indie kids. Then came Dinosaur Jr’s sonic assault on the senses, including that of ‘touch’ as they reverberated through the floors and the metal handrails surrounding the wooden stalls of the Ryman Auditorium-like upper gallery.
It could not, however, be described as a pseudo religious experience. It wasn’t that. It was the simple but astonishing quality of the musicianship on show. J Mascis’ vocals drifted like smoke over the stormy seas of his guitar work, the waves of sound crashing and interlocking with absolute precision, falling back only to make way for his more angular spiralling sound, utterly befitting of the surroundings. Lou Barlow, in socks, tipped blue and burnt orange, was the animated foil to Mascis’ shuffling. In between, and right up front, were the drums, two sets in fact.
Most of the songs were new to me. I couldn’t begin to take the reader through the set-list. I wasn’t holding out for what I knew and maybe that’s pretty much the sum of my experience, it was that good, that loud, that tangled and I recognised it instantly as being something very special indeed. Some front men change the lyrics to fit the times, but I got the impression that these songs were cast in stone. J Mascis will never be a great communicator and that could present him with a problem but there’s no lack of charisma. The songs, maybe more mellow with age (the venue website certainly suggested a mellowing of intensity with a greater emphasis on Neil Young-esque songwriting and delivery) but they still shook the joint.
There was even a comedy moment provided by an over excited audience member who, having achieved the not unremarkable feat of clambering onto the stage raised at least a foot above the tallest person in the building, he then had to think twice as to whether diving back into the crowd was ‘on’ given the drop and the gap between stage and audience. He hesitated, dreadfully in a moment of realisation as to his position, was grabbed by security, so gave it a go, and for that he could be commended for services to rock and roll as he fell short of the qualifying distance by a margin.
‘Freakscene’, an obvious favourite, I’m not embarrassed to say it was mine, with a storming messed up version of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’ to finish off. If one were to allow ridiculous exaggerations based on pure emotion and adrenaline then you might say that Dinosaur Jr caused one to wonder whether this was close to what it would have been like to see The Doors in L.A back in 1970. It crossed my mind as I watched Barlow’s trance like playing, so completely in a zone of his own was he, and the thought made me laugh aloud for an instant. Anything is possible in the immediate aftermath of a show such as this. It’s best not to say too much too soon, best just to savour the moment. Out in the street and back on the tram that moment had gone.
So maybe the setting was appropriate, after all, as I have, it appears, written a eulogy as as opposed to a critical review.