J Mascis looked like that slightly overweight ex-hippy uncle who gets his electric guitar out once a year after Christmas dinner to entertain the nieces and nephews with a little G-L-O-R-I-A. Pudgy face, blue T-shirt, brownish jeans, long gray witch hair draped over his shoulders that from a distance looks like he’s wearing a dirty wet towel over his head. Behind him, seven or eight Marshall amps stacked in three towers that stood taller than him, as if he was standing in a dressing booth made of sonic pain. To his left, a bald, fit-looking Murph on drums, and the ageless Lou Barlow (compared to J, anyway) on bass, his dark-brown hair covering his bouncing face. Dinosaur Jr. wasn’t much to look at. And they didn’t do much to intentionally draw your attention to them. Mascis barely moved his feet, except to shuffle up to the microphone between guitar solos. Still, I couldn’t keep my eyes off them throughout the hour-plus set at Slowdown last night, a set that drew more than 430 to see if the legendary band still had it.
They did, of course. No one doubted that they still had it. But no one was expecting it to be so loud. Loud, yes, but not as loud as it was. Pity any poor soul standing on the main floor who didn’t have hearing protection last night. I thought Jon Taylor’s guitar in Domestica was loud a few weeks ago. It sounded like Joanna Newsom’s harp compared to Mascis’ wall of sound. So loud that halfway through the set, I wondered what damage I was doing to my hearing (and I wore earplugs). I could feel my clothes rippling across my body, moved by the shockwaves of noise (think of the famous Maxell poster where the guy sits in front of a loudspeaker, holding onto the arms of his easy chair to keep from being blown backwards by the volume). Crazy, excessive, pure, necessary loudness.
I’ve never seen Dinosaur Jr. before, though I’ve heard most of their records. I knew what I was in for. Judging by the looks of the crowd — a lot of people my age who grew up with SST records — they did, too. D Jr.’s formula has always been simple — songs start off with a catchy riff shared by Mascis and Barlow, Mascis moans some sort of phrase over and over, and then plays a hyperkinetic guitar solo while Barlow repeats a bass line and Murph bashes the shit out of his drums. The solos seemed to go on for 20 minutes or more, but of course they didn’t. It’s like that slow-motion feeling one gets when experiencing a car accident or a free fall — time slowing to a crawl as you notice every little detail for the first time. Mascis is recognized as a guitar god by anyone who followed indie rock in the ’90s. The reputation is well deserved. Though there was a similarity in all his solos, Mascis always worked something different and interesting into them that made you pay attention. Considering the volume, though, you had little choice.
They played for an hour, then came out and did a two-song encore. Throughout the set, the band barely acknowledged the crowd except to say “We’re happy to be here” and “It’s been too long,” that sort of thing. They barely acknowledged each other between songs as they constantly tuned up, Murph filling in the blank spot with precision drum fills. It was sort of like being at a band practice for one of the best bands from your youth, running through a set of your favorite songs and a few new ones, not trying to impress you, just trying to prove that they know what they’re doing, and they do.
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A little bird told me at Slowdown that there’s an unannounced show at O’Leaver’s tonight featuring the long-dormant Race for Titles (and possibly Landon Hedges). This is not confirmed, so don’t blame me if it doesn’t happen (but it probably will). Also tonight, Scott Severin and the Milton Burlesque play at The Waiting Room. $7, 9 p.m.
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