Dinosaur Jr. | 10.14.09

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dinojr.jpgAnyone looking at the skyscraper-high stack of amplifiers taking up the better part of the Pageant's spacious stage could already tell: we were in for the most obnoxiously, oppressively, unnecessarily loud concert of our lives.

 

w/ Lou Barlow & the Missingmen

The Pageant, St. Louis

"See how tall my amps are now?"

Lou Barlow, the former Sebadoh and Folk Implosion frontman and (after a 16-year break) current Dinosaur Jr. bassist, tossed that question off as a joke about halfway through his opening solo set. But his joke only drove home what anyone looking at the skyscraper-high stack of amplifiers taking up the better part of the Pageant's spacious stage could already tell: we were in for the most obnoxiously, oppressively, unnecessarily loud concert of our lives.

Just to be clear, I'm a guy who likes his music loud. People cringe in pain when they get in my car and I forget to crank the radio back down from my last solo trip. I remember hating Iron Maiden as a kid but thinking that their at-the-time 124 dB record as the loudest band in the world was the coolest, most badass thing I had ever heard of. I never, ever wear earplugs to concerts, preferring to bask in the ear-splitting bliss, settling into bed that night with that slight ringing echoing in my head as a sign of rock n' roll victory. And this Dinosaur Jr. concert was just too damn loud. Even for me.

Don't get me wrong: it was amazing to watch Dinosaur Jr. (in their semi-recently reunited original lineup) explode out of the gate with "Thumb" and the half-punk thrash/half-mid-tempo drive of "Budge," J. Mascis' guitar soaring over the din as Barlow wrestled his bass and Murph beat his drums into submission. But by the third song—the crunching "I Want You To Know," the first of many tracks that night from the band's latest album Farm—the constant barrage of noise had gone from pleasing to punishing. I had never heard anything quite like it; it was so loud it was literally making my jaw hurt. So for the second time in my life (the first being the Bob Mould Band's 1998 appearance at Mississippi Nights), I caved in and bought myself some earplugs.

Even with big wads of foam in my ears, this was still a ridiculously loud show, but it became much easier to appreciate what the band does so well. Anyone who has heard Mascis' personification-of-a-slacker drawl won't be surprised to learn that stage banter was pretty well nonexistent, and his stage presence in general was lackluster. But the much more energetic Barlow and Murph more than made up for Mascis' lack of dynamism, and besides, he'd obviously much rather let his guitar do the talking.

Most Dinosaur Jr. tracks build in intensity as they go along. Just as you think a song has reached its peak, Mascis stomps on an effects pedal (one that somehow makes his guitar twice as loud as it already was) and lets his fingers run wild on the fret board for a few seconds of arpeggiated guitar ecstasy or, as I like to call it, the "holy shit guitar solo." I counted no less than 14 "holy shit guitar solos" throughout the night, more than enough guitar fury to make fans of guys like Joe Satriani give Mascis his due as a guitar god. Possibly the best example of what the band has to offer as a complete package came with "Plans," another Farm track that saw each of its mellow verses end in a miniature (10 seconds or less) H.S.G.S. with one huge one to round out the song, plus a brief instrumental break in the middle where the band locked into some rapid-fire Metallica-ish riffage. It played as a sort of sampler of all the weapons in the band's wide-ranging arsenal.

The band's sole radio hit, 1994's "Feel the Pain," came about two-thirds of the way through the main set. In an interesting reinvention, the slow verses were played at half-speed and the chorus at a faster, thrashier pace; the ultimate result sounded almost like two completely separate songs being mushed together. Despite the new arrangement, the band didn't seem very interested in playing the song. The remainder of the set was still pleasant, but the brutally loud sound mix was making the songs start to blend together. Things thankfully picked up again by the main set finale "I Don't Wanna Go There," where the song's Neil Young-ian stomp gave way to three stunning, seemingly endless guitar solos.

Though the main set was half new material from Farm, the encore was given over to the classics. After opening with the galloping power pop of "In a Jar," the band offered the crowd a vote on the night's final song, and they passed over "Sludgefeast" and "The Wagon" in favor of "Forget the Swan," the opening track from their debut album Dinosaur. The song was a helluva way to wrap up the set, with Barlow and Mascis trading vocals before a final guitar solo so epic that it found Mascis switching guitars midstream to play over his own feedback.

It was surprising to see how much Lou Barlow thrashed around the stage with Dinosaur Jr. after seeing his unassuming opening set. Spending much of the set with his Jeff Lynne-esque fro covering his eyes, Barlow mostly just stomped on effects pedals as he mumbled into the mic. The set leaned less on guitar heroics and more on fuzzed-out lo-fi buzz, aided and abetted by guitarist Tom Watson and drummer Raul Morales (a/k/a the Missingmen, best known for backing former Minutemen/fIREHOSE bassist Mike Watt). The set eschewed songs from the Sebadoh days for material from Barlow's two most recent solo albums (especially this year's Goodnight Unknown), highlighted by the lumbering, grungy "Caterpillar Girl" from 2005's Emoh.

The crowd steadily built during Barlow's set, reaching a pretty good size by the time Dinosaur Jr. took to the stage: even with the balcony closed the show still didn't quite sell out, though places to stand were hard to come by. Save for a few of the super-dedicated up front, the crowd response was surprisingly quiet, especially when compared to the wall of noise coming from the stage. | Jason Green

 

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