Dinosaur Jr. at The Fillmore (10/10/2012)

16 Oct

Dinosaur Jr. are gods of their own little corner of alternative rock. It is a slightly dark corner, somewhere a little older and a little dirtier than the Las Vegas strip club that was Nirvana breaking into the mainstream, but an important corner nonetheless. In that little room with no floor, only pavement and with pixies playing in the dust of old cocaine, alternative rock learned much of what it was going to become. Cults still visit to sacrifice guitar strings and torture amplifiers to the ghosts of Neil Young and Sonic Youth albums. People sensible enough to live in San Francisco just hit The Fillmore instead.

Before I get into the concert, I apologize for the poor quality of the photos.

Shearwater

Before Dinosaur Jr. came to the stage though, we were treated to Shearwater, a band which I will admit to never having heard of before this concert. They were actually pretty good. A little inconsistent, but pretty good. I saw a hipster-looking girl quite literally fall in love with the lead singer. I may never see them again, but she has enough photos to keep her company until the end of time. As should you. Check them out.

As would mark the night though, they had a few sound problems themselves. One guitar pretty much failed to respond at some key moments. On the flip side though, it seemed to mostly have been intended for noise and I did get to see a guitar rage-trashed, which was almost worth the price of admission itself.

Anyway, they are quite good alternative rock. They have that shimmering, washing over you sort of sound that works so well when heard live. The crowd loved them from their first song onwards. Them telling a few stoned idiots to shut the fuck up didn’t hurt either. Pick up Animal Joy, they seemed to play most of their songs from it, and they were awesome. It is undoubtedly a band better heard live though. You need the drum to kick through you and the vocals and guitars to subsume you. However you do it though, listen to them. They are worth hearing.

Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. was, as Shearwater did promise us, mind-blowing. They came out, looking older and rather impossibly grumpier than they should and launched directly into the music. The song list was mostly from I Bet On Sky, as expected, but Little Fury Things came out somewhere around the second song, which was much sooner than I expected. There were also a couple more songs from their early days, including Just Like Heaven, and even a song from back before Dinosaur Jr. was formed. I’ll admit that they didn’t break into a Billie Holiday cover in the middle of the set, but it was certainly as varied as anyone could want.

I have only heard two Dinosaur Jr albums; I Bet On Sky and their classic You’re Living All Over Me, and that was most of their set, but they jammed hard on every song they played. So much was improvised that despite having heard something like four fifths of the songs they played before, two thirds of the music was brand new and the entire thing was excellent. Live music never feels like a recording, but this was a whole new beast that just happened to be wearing familiar clothes. J Mascis’ skill with the guitar has never been questioned, but nothing highlights as clearly as being able to completely tear apart old songs in a live performance.

However, much of the music’s novelty is due to the failure of the sounds crew. The vocals were incredibly soft at the beginning for both Mascis and Barlow, and while Barlow’s improved, J Mascis would not deign to do something as menial as fixing his vocals. In fact, were it not for the fact that I saw him sing, I would not have thought him capable of speaking. Lou Barlow had some fun chatting with the crowd, which included a mention of a certain band from San Francisco that forced them to change their name, but J Mascis never approached the mic for anything but singing. He even cut Lou Barlow off a couple of times, playing right through the chatter. One got the feeling that Dinosaur Jr. is happy enough with what it is, and feels no need to beg you to make it bigger.

Appearances aside, the sound was poor and the vocals non-existent. Dinosaur Jr. to start with is a noisy band, but the vocals do something to soften the sound. Take that away, and the performance becomes pretty loud. Add to that the facts that their improvisations were even noisier and that I stood about 20 feet closer to the stage than I should have and it took me three days before my left ear stopped ringing. Mere noise is easy though. The fact that this was good music through and through is what makes that feat impressive.

This may have been a different sound from the recorded one that drew me there and I may have had to fill in the words myself, but this was one of the best concerts that I have ever been to.

-Nikhil

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