w/Love as Laughter, alaska!
Sat Aug 20, Showbox, 8 pm, $25 adv/$30 DOS.
Funny how things change. Only a year ago, the idea of Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis and Lou Barlow burying their legendarily blood-splattered hatchet was laughable. Their partnership resembled a particularly dysfunctional sibling relationship: Mascis the aloof and ineffable older brother, Barlow tugging in desperate awe at his trouser leg, craving approval the laconic guitarist could never quite give his passive-aggressive bassist.
But many of underground rock's most fabled glaciers have melted of late, and reunion fever seems to have finally trickled down to indie rock, with the genre's long-thought-dead legends once again skulking the clubs and theaters. It makes sense that the Dinosaur would reanimate, if even Frank Black and Kim Deal can hold hands long enough to pick up the paycheck the Pixies' hegemonic influence has earned them since they split.
The old-school indie rock revival is most prominently evidenced on the festival circuit. In London this fall, the minds behind the All Tomorrow's Parties festivals have convened the Don't Look Back season, with the likes of Mudhoney, the Stooges, and Gang of Four reconvening along with the Lemonheads and John Spencer to run through their classic albums, in their original track order. Now, while the idea of a gonzoid Blues Explosion show drawn exclusively from Orange admittedly sets my bellbottoms a tremble, something about indie rock's state-of-the-reunion rubs me wrong-wise. It creates the incorrect impression that there're some long-passed salad days for this music, that today's groups could supposedly never equal their influences, so it really is better to go see the original dudes kick out the jams one more time. But fuck that. While the "DTK3" show I saw last Summer—MC5 survivors Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson, and Michael Davis, aided by guest vocalists—was fun, it was the Icarus Line's opening set that spoke more from the true essence of the MC5 than the "MC5" themselves.
The shark-like rock-n-roll animal needs to move forward or it dies. Nostalgia is cholesterol clogging its arteries. Compare Sonic Youth, still exploring their own creative frontiers with a hunger that shames bands half their age or experience, with any one of these reunion sideshows, and you'll find something messy, something vital and alive that's missing in most of the revivalists' performances. Because Sonic Youth never stopped. The music they play now is as vital as any they've recorded, and their shows are about a band at the peak of their creativity, not trading on past glories.
But trust rock 'n' roll to fool you with an exception to every rule. The Dinosaur reunion is, well, it's pretty special. And for a number of reasons, not least the chance to readdress this group's tarnished reputation. While none of the post-Barlow Dinosaur records were anything less than inspired, even Dinosaur drummer Murph had to admit recently that, upon Barlow's messy exit in 1989, he worried "where we'd draw our artistic fuel, without our original dynamic." The band themselves realized early on that their turbulent group dynamic was a key to their identity—Barlow remembers believing "rock 'n' roll was about a bunch of ambivalent people getting together, hating each other, and playing loud, nasty, hateful music." That attitude gave their greatest album (1987's You're Living All Over Me) its title. It influenced their messy jumble of careworn noise, drawing equally upon classic rock and acid-fried industrial experimentalism.
That adventurous, experimental edge is exactly what the reanimated Dinosaur plug into onstage now. Their London shows at the start of the summer were electrifying with the sheer proud, brave oddness of the old Dinosaur sound—clunky, passionate bass lines riding the foreground, until autistically articulate blasts of noise swallow the subterranean whole.
And that's another reason why Dinosaur are still unmissable: the return of Mascis's pedal-hammering guitar heroics. Some swore the lank-haired one's laconic soloing mired later Dinosaur in fretwank ordure. His records with the Fog restored some fire to the din, but the Jurassic noise he stirred in June was truly a marvel of wah-wah stomping fury: fat waves of fried frazzle, heavy enough to level entire landscapes.
The final reason to catch these shows is that they're intended to publicize the somewhat recent re-release of the group's long out-of-print first three albums, fecund pools of fiery creativity that need speedy reintroducing to the indie-rock canon. Dinosaur haven't returned to trade on past glories, but rather to set the record straight—that there was never anything slack about these (genius) motherfuckers.