Live: Getting The Warm And Fuzzies With Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr., Fucked Up, Off Terminal 5 Thursday, June 23
Better than: You and your friends sitting around, telling each other how much you appreciate each other.
Keith Morris is a founding member of both Black Flag and The Circle Jerks, the co-author of a song called "World Up My Ass," and a pioneering reason why anyone gives a shit about anyone else on this bill. He is also an unfailingly polite punk legend, thanking the audience for arriving early and then introducing each of the musicians in his new group OFF!, which includes lifers Mario Rubalcaba, drummer for Hot Snakes/Rocket From The Crypt, and Steve McDonald, bassist for long-running LA alt-pop group Redd Kross. The two played with a frenetic precision likely born of some formative years jamming along with prime Circle Jerk material. On guitar was Dimitri Coats, whose band The Burning Brides were the third- or fourth-best group (not as good as Cave In, perhaps better than The Icarus Line) in the highly populated category of "early-naughts underground bands whose chance at mainstream popularity was doomed by label woes."
Coats hung in there after the Brides' label fell apart, getting side gigs and production work that led him to working with Morris on a potential new Circle Jerks album. That project fell apart, but the pair then formed OFF!, whose EPs and live show find a renewed Morris attacking his vocals with a viciousness that shames most young punks, and Coats boiling down his textured, arena-sized riffs down to bite-size blasts of white noise. OFF! ripped into a set that was equally fueled by fury and the joy that, after all this time, people still want to see these guys do their thing.
Morris put a two-page set list on his amp, although the set was over in less than half an hour; I think it would hurt his feelings if I were to imply that they played a song that lasted more than a minute. Unrepentantly sporting white-man dreads and twitching about the stage with nervous, you'd-cross-the-street-to-avoid-him-in-real-life energy, he only paused to explain that the line "fuck people" related to those people who "are too important to use a turn signal" (I guess he doesn't want us thinking he's overly negative) and to dedicate a relatively subdued (i.e. vocally legible) song to his late friend, Jeffrey Lee Pierce of The Gun Club. "I'm 56, I get to do that," he explained, though I don't think anyone would have challenged him.
Fucked Up look like a nice group of Canadian post-grads (bassist Sandy "Mustard Gas" Miranda's church picnic dress and drummer Jonah "Guinea Beat" Falco's preppy collared shirt were laugh-out-loud hilarious) getting university credit by backing someone from the nearby work-release program. Hulking singer Damian "Pink Eyes" Abraham is an intimidating presence right until he starts talking (thanking us, thanking Dinosaur Jr, telling us that anyone can be in a band), and 'twas not 30 seconds into opener "Queen Of Hearts" before he removed his shirt and bounded into the crowd. Abraham has a truly impressive dedication to making sure that every fan who wanted to scream a lyric into the microphone or get drenched with a sweaty bear hug got the opportunity. He spent most of the set roaming around on Terminal 5's pit, and he probably would have ventured up to the second and third floors if he had a cordless microphone. As great as Abraham's roaming was for the crowd's energy, it took a toll on his performance. He was often out of breath during the middle of the set, and struggled at times to stay with the beat or execute all his lines.
But this is a band whose mission is to create a chain of energy between crowd and performers that pushes both to a frenzy, only pausing so Abraham can catch his breath and indulge in some between-song banter. (He told us last night that he recently shaved him beard "because I'm an idiot. I look like a giant baby!") He's quite the charmer, that Pink Eyes. I'm not surprised at all that he's a VJ for Canada's MuchMusic (and it is a goddamn CRIME that no one in America is broadcasting his show), and I won't be shocked once he starts getting character actor roles either. But Fucked Up is a band, as the saying goes, expertly balancing animal-brain savagery with the precision to execute their complex arrangements, and Miranda and lead guitarist Mike "10,000 Marbles" Haliechuk capably handled the female counterpoint vocals from David Comes To Life. Though Terminal 5, as it is wont to do, completely, er, fucked up the vocal mix. But this is a band that thrives on a challenge, so throwing a party in New York's most sterile venue is just another day at the sweat-drenched office.
Before Dinosaur Jr. performed their breakthrough third album Bug (J. Mascis' least favorite album) in its entirety, the band sat down for a live interview with Henry Rollins. Which...yeah, why not? Black Flag and Dinosaur Jr. were two of the college-rock era's most artistically influential bands, and they made for two of the most interesting chapters in Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life. Add in the presence of Morris and Fucked Up, and the whole night in some ways felt like a follow-up to the recent Azerrad Bowery fete. Which was all well and good until you remembered Mascis'... reputation.
Mascis did at least try to act interested (would you want to risk disappointing Rollins?), mentioning his time at Hunter College and how it didn't seem like anyone liked his band until Bug came out and how, yeah sure, it was pretty interesting when Hüsker Dü signed to a major label and, uh, people in New York always liked seem to like them a lot. But as usually is the case with these things, drummer Murph and bassist Lou Barlow did most of the heavy lifting. Murph recalled an early practice session in which Mascis, after watching All My Children, turned his amplifiers to face his bandmates and turned up the volume until they had to find toilet paper to serve as makeshift earplugs, which made both realize they'd need to set it up hard to keep up with their new boss. Barlow and Rollins engaged in a praise-off; I'm going to assume Barlow was being sincere ("people didn't throw things as us like they did at Black Flag!"), because there's no way he has the balls to mock Rollins to his face.
The audience seemed to care very little for this live interview idea, only cheering whenever a band they liked was mentioned (huge cheers for Flipper and Hüsker Dü; polite clapping for Nirvana). One individual seemed angered by Rollins' presence, screaming "you suck" and throwing a shoe. (I get why people find him an intolerable blowhard, but I have a big soft spot for the earnest goober.)
As is often the case with full-album concerts, the Bug read-through was a tight and efficient highlighting of Dinosaur Jr.'s songwriting skill (the Johnny Marr jangle in "Budge" really shined), but it also felt somewhat reined in. The sense that they were running down a well-rehearsed checklist was hard to avoid; they sounded more energized and fluid during non-Bug songs like "The Wagon" and "Out There," and it was apparent to see why, despite all those years of acrimony, these three still play together. There's a hard-won chemistry; Barlow and Murph can prop up Mascis's roaring crescendos, and they can quickly follow him whenever he shifts his compositions into new directions or lets another wild solo fly.
At the end of the set, Abraham joined the band for a monstrous cover of Last Rites' "Chunks." Before doing so, he kissed Mascis on the head. As soon as the song was over, with feedback still bleeding out, Mascis looked into the crowd and said, "OK." And then he walked off.
Critical bias: If there's never been a moment in your life where you achingly related to "Freak Scene," then I applaud you for your emotional maturity and sound interpersonal judgment.
Overheard: In Our Band, Barlow talks about how during the recording of Bug closer "Don't," he screamed so hard he coughed up blood. Hoping to avoid that, he brought up a shirtless fan who looked like The MC5's Rob Tyner by way of Ken Marino's character in Wet Hot American Summer. That dude fucking brought it, screaming "why/why/why don't you like me" with near-psychotic convention over Mascis' overdriven maelstrom. Abraham later said, "that guy needs to start a band." Agreed.
Random notebook dump: With his precise delivery, controlled hand gestures, and intensely polite and engaged demeanor, Rollins reminded me a lot of Chris Traeger from Parks And Recreation. What I would give to him say "lit-er-ally!"
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