With another terrific album in the not-too-distant past, Dinosaur Jr continues an almost unprecedented roll into its third decade and — undoubtedly — its third "version" of the band. With Marshall stacks forming an imposing wall of heavy, heavy sound behind them, J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph hit the stage with slick and unassuming confidence last night at Beachland Ballroom. It was a thrilling show.
The band opened with "The Lung," a classic, into "Goin Down," a single off the last album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. Throughout, the audience in the sold-out Ballroom nodded their heads in time.
Onstage, the three incredibly distinct characters work diligently. J, long silver hair gracing past his shoulders, stood tall and stoic. Barlow hopped around frenetically, his mop of brown hair often concealing his face entirely and his salmon-colored button-down soaked thoroughly with sweat. Murph aggressively pounded his drums from behind a pair of glasses and beneath a shaved head that nodded in contrast to his bandmates' follicular might. Each musician was fun to watch in their own way, and I mostly caught myself watching Murph throw down an absolutely incredible set of percussion. (J himself, who has famously directed the drums in previous incarnations of the band, has even lauded Murph's personal touches on the band's most recent material.)
"Turn up the vocals!" one guy cried out a few songs into the show.
J responded in slacker drawl: "Yeah, let's turn off the vocals. Who needs 'em?"
A little later, that same guy would yell again: "Turn up J's vocals, goddamnit!" And it sounded like the folks at the soundboard did try to accommodate that, the result being sometimes J's vocals broke up into a scratchy mess. Because here's the thing: One of the tenets of Dinosaur Jr's sound is leaving the vocals buried beneath layers of sound. In this, they're shoegaze brethren as much as they're grunge brethren.
When the band fired up "The Wagon," presenting two guest musicians briefly, the crowd went nuts. This song holds up as one of the tentpole Dino Jr moments — a high-water mark in a long and storied career.
Out of that song, though, came a wall of sound from those Marshalls. As J tuned up his guitar, loops bent backward over themselves and washed across the audience. Suddenly, out of the haze, J started up the chugging riff to "Watch the Corners." The band was burned through that song at a higher tempo, but it worked well as a centerpiece that bled into "Pieces," "Tiny" and "Feel the Pain." It was an excellent run of tunes, complete with mind-bending solo work from J.
Then, the more relaxed, ambient "Knocked Around" showed up. Another tune from Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, this song represented really the only non-headbanging part of the night, and it was duly welcome in that slot.
The set ended with the old-school "Gargoyle," capped with what seemed like a solid five-minute opened-ended jam. For most of the show, J's solos were pretty in-the-pocket; here, though, he worked a staccato right-hand rhythm up and down the neck in laid-back fury. It was really something.
The band took suggestions from the audience for the encore (people even brought signs), and J once again took the final few songs to really stretch out his lead muscles. At the very end of the show, J offered a very quick and disaffected "Woo" into the mic before walking offstage. And that was that. Great show.