- Big bang theory: In their mid-'80s heyday, Dinosaur Jr. introduced classic-rock bombast to the often-timid world of indie rock.
Last week in Orlando, Florida, more than one influential rock band staged a reunion at House of Blues. On Thursday night, Dinosaur Jr., the indie maverick from Massachusetts, played the first show of its current tour at the venue, proving to all doubters that rock never stops. As it turns out, the very same thing had been demonstrated the night before, when the Rock Never Stops 2005 tour rolled through town, bringing hair-metal survivors Cinderella, Ratt, Quiet Riot, and Firehouse with it. Not ones to pass up the cosmic opportunity of a lifetime, the Dinosaur dudes were there to witness it.
"I was really sort of impressed with Cinderella," says drummer Emmett Jefferson Murphy III, better known as "Murph," on the phone the next morning from a room at the Doubletree hotel. "They really put on a big rock show."
He should know. In its mid-'80s heyday, Dinosaur Jr. introduced a sense of classic-rock bombast to the often-timid world of indie rock. Frontman J Mascis, an unlikely guitar hero if ever there was one, offset his sensitive-guy whine with the sort of explosive, long-winded solos that punk and hardcore had outlawed just a few years before. On the band's first three albums -- '85's Dinosaur, '87's You're Living All Over Me, and '88's Bug, all recently reissued by the indie-rock guardians at Merge Records -- Mascis (center), Murph (left), and bassist Lou Barlow (right) made a then-unfashionable racket that went on to influence an entire generation (or two) of alternative-rock successors.
And now they're back to do it again. Or at least show people that they can still shred. When Mascis decided last year to reissue the early albums, there was no plan to reunite the band as well. "No one even thought about it," says Murph, who left Dinosaur Jr. in the early '90s. Barlow had already departed. Mascis then made subsequent records under the band's name with a variety of musicians, and the three didn't communicate much. "It was just gonna be J putting out the records and doing more of his own thing. But we got so much response from family and fans -- offers to do a lot of gigs. They were like, 'You guys have to do this. If you're gonna do the records, you gotta reunite too.' We were surprised, and then it just turned into 'Oh, okay, I guess we'll try this reunion thing.'" Murph remembers that the band's current manager called him up at his parents' house over the Christmas holidays with word that J was interested in re-forming the band. "I never get calls there for anything but family stuff. And I'm only there on holidays," he laughs.
Murph describes the process of reuniting as a simple one initially, but says that things quickly got more complicated. "There were a lot of logistics," he says, including Barlow's living in L.A. and having just had a baby with his wife, among other hurdles. "Just getting us together, coordinating everything, getting everyone's schedules to work out -- it just turned into a really big thing."
Big, indeed. After an unannounced gig at L.A.'s Spaceland in April reintroduced Dinosaur to the world, its members undertook a healthy touring schedule that would exhaust performers half their age; they spent June playing the European festival circuit, they'll tour North America this month before playing Japan's Fuji Rock festival on the 30th, and they'll spend August doing more shows in Europe and on the west coast.
"We're literally going through September," Murph says, sounding a little amazed. "We don't really have any days off at all.
"I like the touring life. I'm into the whole discipline of it," he adds. "I mean, it gets a little tiring, just because we're older or whatever. But those guys have been touring the whole time: J travels constantly, and Lou just did a solo tour. I still travel."
You'd think that one perk of Dinosaur's accumulated fame would be the improved living conditions the group can now afford on tour. After all, the Pixies' Black Francis told more than one reporter when they reunited last year that they were doing it for the money. "Actually, it's kind of come full circle," Murph chuckles. "When we first started, it was all about the van and sleeping on people's couches. And then things got really luxurious for a while, where we would have a hotel, buses, the whole thing. Now J's gotten back to being really pared-down and refined, so it's actually harder again."
The drummer credits Mascis' past splurging to the band members not getting along -- those comforts helped them keep apart between shows. "If we had to be hanging out all together, I think we would have driven each other nuts," he says. "Whereas now, because people get along, we're like, 'Yeah, we'll stay in the bus.'"
They're getting along musically too, according to Murph. He says that when he and Barlow got together in Barlow's practice space in L.A. to run through some old material, "within an hour we were right there again. It was as if no time had passed. It wasn't hard recapturing or recreating the old chemistry. It's just that we're better players now, so we have a better understanding of music."
Murph admits that as a fan he's been skeptical of band reunions before. "Just because it's trying to reverse time," he says. "A lot of bands, when they're older and they're reuniting, they're trying to incorporate their new lives or their new sounds into it, and that's what screws it up. We don't have to try to do anything. Just putting us together in the same room and having us play, it sounds like it always did. We haven't changed at all."