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In December of 1987, just as cracks were beginning to show in the musical and personal bond between its three members, Dinosaur Jr. released a whale of an album–You’re Living All Over Me–that still stands as the crown jewel of the Massachusetts trio’s sterling discography, which is now 10 LPs deep.
That was 25 years ago, and to mark the anniversary, J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph, who’ve been reunited since 2005, are playing the album in its entirety tomorrow night at Terminal 5. To make things even more interesting, the trio is following that with a second set of songs drawn from their entire catalog, during which they’ll be joined by a bunch of “very special musical guests” who’ll play on a song or two. So far, a handful of big names have been revealed: Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Melvins’ Dale Crover, and Sleep’s Al Cisneros. There’ll probably be a few more as-yet-unannounced folks who’ll drop by, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Kurt Vile–who’s opening the show along with his backing band the Violators–joins in on the festivities as well. It has the makings of an indie-rock all-star jam the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Backbeat Band.
A few random notes/observations/thoughts/whathaveyou:
– While Gordon, Crover and Cisneros showing up makes pretty good sense, given each’s pursuit of the noisier, sludgier side of rock over the past few decades, Marr seems to stick out like a sore thumb (maybe he’ll play on “Thumb”). Granted, he’s roughed up his guitar-attack a bit since the Smiths years, but he still seems far more of a controlled, understated player than Mascis, who’s famous for his loud, wild abandon when it comes to solo time. Then again, it’s that divergence in styles that should make for one of the night’s more fascinating moments when the pair trades licks.
– In the conversation about Best Album Opening Tracks Of All-Time, You’re Living All Over Me‘s “Little Fury Things” has to be near the top. Murph’s drums tumble into Mascis’s raging guitar fuzz–wah’ed out and distorted chords with a melancholy pull–while Barlow shrieks “What is it? Where is it? Who is it?” in the background, like he’s being tortured to extract information. Then, as Barlow’s bass joins the fray, it explodes into gorgeously jagged melodies pushed forward by Mascis’s unique, drawling whine, abetted by Barlow’s sweet vocal harmonies. I heard it for the first time during my impressionable teenage years, and it was an electrifying, edifying moment (definitely more so than the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”) At that point, I wasn’t that on board with the noisy alt-rock underground–I didn’t really get it, was a little intimidated by the challenge of it all, my ears were still enslaved by Top 40 and classic rock radio–but “Little Fury Things” showed me the way that sonic discord and traditional pop songcraft could merge so perfectly (in a way that, say, Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s craggy jams hadn’t quite done for me), opening the door to a whole new world of music. Thanks, “Little Fury Things”! Perhaps you, too, will get a little tingle in your spine–part-nostalgia, part-it’s still so very loud and awesome and exhilarating–when the band kicks everything off with the track tomorrow night.
– J. Mascis is a super-nice, soft-spoken fellow and all, but I’ve basically given up trying to get much out of him during interviews. Almost as legendary now for being an awkward, reluctant interviewee as he is for his guitar heroics, I discovered for myself that he’d rather chew off a limb than field questions from a music journalist. Mascis has always been cordial in the several times I’ve talked to him, but a typical answer to any question: “Yeahhh…[five-second pause] … I guess that was cool … [seven-second pause]…I mean, kinda cool, I dunno … [17-second pause] [half-chuckle] … yeah….” I thought maybe it was me (and hell, maybe it was, though I thought my questions were all right), until I talked to a few other writers who had the same experience. And after one chat, I got an e-mail from the publicist saying that “J. enjoyed the interview,” which was news to me. Of course, I’ve always maintained that if I was a professional musician, I’d probably never do interviews and have to suffer through the same old questions (or even the really offbeat questions from interviewers trying to avoid asking the same old questions), so I can mostly respect where Mascis is coming from. So I didn’t reach out to him to talk about tomorrow night’s gig. Sorry. I’m sure he’d tell you it’s going to be fun. Pretty fun. [ 37-second pause.] Yeahhh. [Ed. Note: Mascis uncharacteristically opens up on Monday’s WTF podcast.]
– Of all the bands that have reunited over the past decade, other than Mission of Burma, I can’t think of any that have been more sincere or fruitful, or which have lived up to the standards that the band may have established during their first go-around, than Dinosaur Jr. Their recently released I Bet On Sky is fantastic–like the two previous “reunion” albums (2007’s Beyond and 2009’s Farm) it’s not as ferocious as, say, Dinosaur, it’s more akin to Dinosaur Jr.’s ’90s output, after Mascis had given Barlow the boot, but it still offers the distinctive sound of three guys trying to puncture their melancholy and world-weariness with ardent, fuzzed-out hooks and a desire to look ahead, while cognizant of what they’ve done before, instead of simply trying to recapture past glories. Tomorrow night’s show might celebrate one of those glories, but the second, indie-rock-star-studded set–which will probably include a fair amount of post-reunion material–will likely be just as enthralling as the first.