Dinosaur Jr. Central Park Summer Stage, 7/14/05
Yes it was the original line-up -- Macis: looking like a gen x Gandalf with trademark long greasy hair gone totally grey. Murph: completely bald and looking a lot like Geoffrey Young. Barlow: he aged the best.
Their nonplussed vibe on stage was hard to read at first. As it turned out, nonplussed is how these guys look when they're trying really hard to make music sound really good. It took three or four songs for them to warm up, but then the whole thing just took off: fast, aggressive, tight riff-switching parts that toggled between introverted and expansive. A true power trio, they cram as much music into every bar as possible, with everyone doubling everyone else and filling in the spaces in a way that just makes you feel like you are being given very large helpings of a dish the servers know is completely delicious. The standard talking point is Neil Young, but I couldn't help thinking Dinosaur is more like the Who in some ways, if the Who was riddled with a multidimensional and multitextured self-doubt that is.
This is the sound of socially hopeless guys who could not learn to fake the normal things people learn to fake, so instead they learned to play really well, and just hoped this would be enough to make things okay -- unassuming people unpacking a surprising amount of music from frustration and longing and a certain amount of desperation.
The report form Mascis is a detailed mass of information from a guy who didn't get the girl and will never get the girl. You can hear the songs emerging from raw unrequited love, an inability to communicate, and feebleness. But then also there is this complete awesomeness at the one thing of playing the guitar and putting these songs together. And the guitar sound is unmistakable -- biting and trebly but somehow still pliable and covering a wide spectrum of tones, suddenly uncontrollably erupting from it's own horizon to include beautiful, alienating and welcoming elements at the same time. A second later the tone recedes into a sharp, jangly clarity. What should sound like lazy, whining vocals are dropped into the power of these song parts and alchemically transformed into a melodic sensitively embedded in a block of conflicted awesomeness.
Working against a bad drum mix (maybe it's expecting a little much to have the Summerstage sound system be able to keep up with the four stacks of Marshalls that Barlow and Mascis had between them), Murph's drumming was aggressive, tasteful propulsion blending seamlessly with the other parts. It's hard to play that much and not sound busy. Barlow's picked Rickenbacker lines boomed and swerved and filled out a bed for all the noise. He has a way of emphasizing the perfect part of the chord in the song peak-outs, reinforcing the melody more than the noise.
As with the Pixies reunion, Dinosaur Jr. recreated the best things about the band without a hint of necrophilia. All the songs were from You're Living All Over Me, and Bug, with a few of the worthy tunes from the first album, like Repulsion and Forget the Swan, done with a Bug-like arrangement that made them sound much better than the original recorded versions.