Live Review: Dinosaur Jr.

by Mitch Goldman

RKCNDY, Seattle, WA 5/24/97

The only thing "Jr." about Dinosaur Jr. is their name (oh, and maybe J. Mascis' diminutive stature). Otherwise this 12 year old trio has one of the biggest sounds in the alt-rock world as we know it. Mascis is clearly one of the great American guitarists, and in sharp contrasts to many of his alternative rock peers, he's got some serious chops. With a dozen or more stompboxes lined up at his feet and his long hair hanging in his face, J. plays the hell out of the Dino catalogue without breaking a sweat. Sure his sound is processed and re-processed, but it's the dynamics and emotion that make his approach so satisfying. He may be a wanker, but he's our wanker.

And every so often, this reclusive little guy puts out an album (like his excellent new offering Hand it Over) and hits the road with longtime bassist Mike Johnson and whoever he can find to keep time behind the traps. Original bass player Lou Barlow left in 1989 to form Sebadoh, old drummer Murph is long gone, but that doesn't stop J. and Mike from hitting all the high points of the Dino body of work. Their RKCNDY show found them breathing life into old songs that haven't been dusted off in years: the surprising and intense opener "The Lung", the insanely propulsive Cure cover "Just Like Heaven", the Green Mind anthem "The Wagon", and the severely-stretched-out jam of "Puke and Cry". Surprisingly short on new numbers, the set did include a few Hand it Over tunes like "Nothing's Goin' On" and "Can't We Move This". As with all the songs, Mike Johnson's fluid, melodic bass playing worked in perfect counterpoint to J.'s saturated, rich guitar tone (J. changes guitars with every tune, each axe outfitted with a capo set on a different fret…how he remembers to sing in the correct key is a minor miracle).

Of course the crowd responded most vocally to the tunes from J.'s most successful record, 1993's Where You Been, a watershed effort released at the commercial height of alternative radio. The plaintive wail of "Out There" and the climactic set closing "What Else is New" found J. and cohorts at their peak, meshing feedback and distortion with emotive melodicism and dynamic jamming. On the classic Dino tune "Freak Scene" J. sings "don't let me fuck up will you/cause when I need a friend, it's still you". Dino's Seattle show proved J. still has plenty of friends in the dwindling fan base of alternative rock.



The Lung
Feel the Pain
Little Fury Things
Out There
Just Like Heaven
The Wagon
Nothing's Goin' On
Can't We Move This
Freak Scene
Puke and Cry
Goin' Home
What Else Is New



Copyright © 1997

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