Since Dinosaur Jr reunited in 2005, they have recorded two well-received new albums (2007’s Beyond and 2009’s Farm) and have played a host of shows all over the globe. What they hadn’t done, at least until now, is play an entire album from start to finish. Succumbing to this trend, they agreed to play 1988’s Bug from start to finish in support of a cassette (!) reissue of the album limited to just 250 hand-numbered copies.
Starting off with two non- Bug tracks (“The Lung” and “The Wagon”, respectively) since they’ve said in interviews that starting off their set with “Freak Scene” (Bug‘s opening track) felt “weird”, they then launched into “Freak Scene” and the Bug portion of the set (which comprised the rest of their main set) was underway. Although we enjoyed the set a lot, many of these types of full album shows offer “no alarms and no surprises” (to quote Radiohead) since we generally know what’s coming and this was no exception. Still, enjoyable it was, with the well-known “Freak Scene” sharing time with unheralded but equally great deep album cuts like the astonishing “They Always Come,” (perhaps my favorite ’80s Dinosaur Jr song) “Let It Ride” and “Post”. J Mascis‘ guitar playing was as loud and wailing and enjoyable to hear and witness as ever and the rhythm section of Lou Barlow and Murph is as rock solid as they come. As enjoyable as it was, though, I wish that the show had been in a different venue. Though the balcony and the back section of the floor were closed off to make it appear fuller than it actually was and to give it the feel of a show in a smaller club (the TLA, Trocadero or Starlight Ballroom would’ve been much better fits for the size of the crowd), the sound on this evening was notoriously bad. Dinosaur Jr are, of course, loud enough that it didn’t matter TOO much, but they sure sounded better sonically every other time we’ve seen them though I did enjoy this show more than the last time we saw them a few years ago.
Admittedly, there was one surprise during the Bug portion of the set. For “Don’t”, the album’s purposely annoying last track ) that on record was sung by Lou Barlow, they brought out a random fan whose name I didn’t catch to sing it and played a 10-minute version that felt like both an endurance test (though a much more enjoyable one than the recorded version) and an homage to Flipper, No Trend and other ’80s dirge-meisters. For the encore, they came out and played “Feel the Pain” (their biggest U.S. hit) and closed with “In a Jar”.
Before their set, there was an unusual twist to the evening. There was an interview segment with Henry Rollins coming onstage to introduce and interview the band, primarily asking them questions about their mid ’80s formation and the grueling tours they undertook back in those halycon but underappreciated early days of American indie rock. Though the subject matter was interesting, the abysmal sound prevented some of the dialogue from being heard audibly throughout the cavernous space. To be fair, though, it did improve a bit as the interview progressed.
If the evening had a thread, it was SST records, the label formed by Black Flag‘s Greg Ginn which originally released Bug (as well as Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me, their previous album). The presence of Rollins (Black Flag’s singer from 1981 until their breakup in 1986) and Keith Morris (Black Flag’s original vocalist) in the opening band OFF! solidified this connection and Morris even mentioned this in his verbiose between song banter while praising the headliners as much as gushing fanboy Rollins did. All in all, there seemed to be a lot of love between artists on this evening as OFF! were specifically selected to open the tour by Dinosaur Jr and the mutual admiration and respect is always comforting to see.
As for OFF!‘s set, this was our first time seeing them and though the huge, cavernous venue (and a crowd that stood still and barely moved or even clapped for the most part) wasn’t the best fit for their brand of hardcore, they still played really well. I think they covered just about every song of the 16 songs on The First Four EPs during their just under 30 minute set.