Great bands have a signature sound, and Dinosaur Jr. have it in spades. Sure, these three musicians play loud enough to shatter dental fillings, but their chemistry is truly unique. Friday night at the Majestic Theatre, they bulldozed through new material and old classics alike, which made for an amazing set.
From J Mascis's thick, saturated and distorted guitar tone and high-pitched, apathetic singing, to Lou Barlow's crushing, often chordal, bass and more conventionally melodic vocals, to Murph's speedy drumming, this is a band to which the phrase "greater than the sum of its parts" actually applies.
Mascis didn't say a word between songs, leaving all stage banter to Barlow. Mascis might have seemed aloof if his lead-guitar playing wasn't so fantastic. He seems to live for solos, and he certainly had a great night on that front. A fabulously melancholy version of "No Bones," a song from 1989's Bug, opened the set, and it set the pattern for the night: Mascis played a song really, really well, then let Barlow and Murph groove away while he tried to blow up his enormous wall of Marshall amplifiers through sheer force of soloing. This could have become tedious if they weren't such incredible performers, but since they are, the effect was just exhilarating.
Barlow's bass playing was as distinctive, personal and battering as it is on recordings, and it cut through the overall sound much more clearly than when I saw the band perform in 2009. Murph deserved the most accolades last night, however: He broke sticks, lost sticks and even lost his glasses from rocking too hard. This added to the shock factor when Barlow sheepishly explained that the band couldn't do an encore because their drummer was throwing up. Mascis and Barlow's vocals got buried in the noise at times, but since the melodic intensity of the instrumental work is the band's chief draw, this problem only added to my joyous disorientation.
Material from the band's latest record I Bet On Sky, like Barlow's "Rude" and Mascis's "Watch The Corners," sounded just as good -- and just as Dinosaur-esque -- as beloved numbers like "Start Chopping" and "Feel The Pain."
The set leaned more on newer songs than old, and there was only one song from the band's masterpiece, You're Living All Over Me. This was a smart move, as the new, more mellow material translated extremely well live. But the band became more intense, fiery and loose as the set progressed. From Bug's "Budge" onward, a near-desperate drive powered the songs, and by the time the closing trilogy of "Freak Scene," "Raisans," and "Forget the Swan" rolled around, the band sounded ready to explode. Mascis conjured some mind-boggling flanged guitar noise for the solos on "Freak Scene," engaged in extended wailing on "Raisans" and jammed so hard on "Forget The Swan" that it seemed as if he was trying to tear holes in the air around his amps. Throughout all this, Murph pounded away, and Barlow seemed almost serene as he strummed, picked and thumped his bass and tossed around his bushy hair.
Though the band unleashed the noise with wild abandon, their mastery of it was absolute.