Alt-Rock Royalty Dinosaur Jr Refuses to Go Extinct
By Jaime Lees
Mon, Mar 13, 2017
Though Dinosaur Jr is hailed by fans as one of the all-time greatest acts tied to the “alternative rock” movement, it never achieved proper mainstream success. Founded in Amherst, Massachusetts, in decidedly pre-grunge 1984, Dinosaur Jr toiled for years on the edges of the local punk scene: too out there for most people to comprehend and too weird to really fit in anywhere else.
Over time this independence has worked to the band’s favor. By not being pigeonholed into any specific scene or claimed by any one genre, it had the freedom to grow organically. Because Dinosaur Jr was the band for nobody in particular, it was eventually able to become the band for everybody. In 1990, the group went from releasing records on tastemaker labels such as SST to signing a deal with major label Sire Records. But despite minor achievements and enormous accolades, by the mid-1990s, the band had fallen apart and scattered. Singer and guitarist J Mascis continued with the band name for a couple of years, while bassist Lou Barlow went to steer Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion, and drummer Emmett Murphy (who goes by the singular “Murph” in all credits and press) started drumming in the Lemonheads.
A reunion was deemed unlikely — the members of Dinosaur Jr seemed to actively dislike each other and were notoriously unable to communicate about even basic things with any success. But Murph tells RFT that he still supported a reunion long before it actually happened — and he even had a certain notable drummer-turned-guitarist in his corner.
“I was doing the Lemonheads and I remember we played at a festival that the Foo Fighters were on,” Murph recalls. “We were hanging out with Dave Grohl and he came up to me, and he’s like, ‘Dude, you gotta get Dino back together! C’mon, dude, you gotta call those guys up!’ And I would just be like, ‘I don’t know, man, I just don’t think J is into it.’ And I would ask J every few years. I’d see him on the street and I’d be like, ‘C’mon, dude. Dino reunion.’ And he’d be kind of like Lurch from The Addams Family — he’d just kind of go, ‘Uhhh, I don’t think so.’”
By the time the original three finally reunited to tour on the reissues of their old albums in 2005, interest in the band was at an all-time high. Then the group released Beyond in 2007, its first album as a reformed unit, and the new music was brilliant. The stellar songs were classic Dinosaur Jr, in the best way — a relief to long-time fans who feared that the band might have lost its magic over the years or might screw up its legacy with attempts at a new sound.
Murph himself acknowledges the hit-or-miss aspect of reunited bands with new music. “Most bands I’ve seen get back together, they have some new direction and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, this is painful. This is bad. Like, what are you guys doing?’’ he says. “That happens all of the time.”
Many fans thought some of the Pixies reunion shows, in particular, felt like taking a knee to the family jewels. Murph is candid on the subject. “They might’ve had Kim Shattuck [of the Muffs] on bass, because I saw them a couple of times with her and it was horrible. It was so bad,” he says. “Then they got this LA woman [Paz Lenchantin] who’s this slick, like, gun-for-hire, and then it sounded so much better. I was living in LA like four summers ago, and so much music goes through there. I got to see the Breeders one weekend and Pixies the next. And the Breeders were just, head and shoulders, so much better than the Pixies. Like, I couldn’t believe how much better the Breeders were. It was such a good show. It was amazing.”
Murph likes to take in many different bands, and fans of all different types of music love his band, too: Dinosaur Jr’s brutally loud and heavy — yet frequently sweepingly melodic — music is beloved by fans of rock, psychedelic, alternative, punk, pop, prog, noise, classic rock and jam bands. But even though that’s been the case for 30 years, the band’s members are only just starting process the scope of their popularity. Murph says that he was delighted when he recently learned that Dinosaur Jr is frequently discussed online in chat rooms by fans of the band Phish.
“I was, like, totally blown away,” Murph says. “Really? We were mentioned in a Phish chat room? Because we’re kind of, like, from the punk, and that’s like the opposite. Most of the hippie jammy band kids just are not into noise or punk at all — they’re into bluegrass and folk and all that stuff. So I thought that was really funny.” Still, Murph concedes that the band has done some jam band “noodling.”
“I mean, I’m into that stuff, personally. I grew up listening to like Frank Zappa and Mahavishnu Orchestra, so I can relate,” he says. “But as a band we’ve always come from — and J and Lou are definitely from — like, thrash and oi! roots, so it always surprises me when we get crossover fans. I’m always kind of shocked.” Dinosaur Jr is currently on a tour of high-end mid-sized venues and will spend the summer playing at major festivals. Murph seems almost bashful about his group’s success, even though he remains hopeful about the future.
The band’s interpersonal relationships must be better, too. Murph explains that while touring life is often seen by outsiders as glamorous, it’s really just eight to ten people crammed onto one bus, day in and day out. In that way, he says, it’s similar to sailing, where everybody is stuck in one little area.
But what if they managed to get more buses? “If we were like Bon Jovi or something that would be great,” Murph says with a laugh. “I don’t think we’re at that level yet.”
8 p.m. Sunday, March 19. Delmar Hall, 6133 Delmar Boulevard. $25 to $28. 314-726-6161.
link: Riverfront Times
Dinosaur Jr at LouFest, 8/25/12: Review, Photos and Setlist
By Jaime Lees Sun., Aug. 26 2012 at 11:53 AM
The Dinosaur Jr diehards moved in as soon as the Son Volt crowd moved out. Claiming rib-bruising spots against the metal crowd-control fence, they stood patiently — prepared to wait out Phantogram’s electro-beeps blazing in the distance from across the lawn. Their determination paid off an hour or so later when these fans had a front row spot to witness one of the most respected bands of the alternative era take the stage.
Dinosaur Jr regularly plays to tens of thousands at behemoth European festivals, so to see the band at a comparatively tiny outdoor concert like LouFest is a luxury. Weather conditions were questionable and thunderstorms threatened for the better part of the afternoon, but a cool breeze picked up and the rain (an annoying, but not drenching drizzle) stopped just a few minutes into Dino’s set, right after bassist Lou Barlow encouraged the crowd to chant the name of the drummer. (“Murph! Murph! Murph!”) The stagehands looked relieved and everybody stopped eyeing the thin protective plastic wrapped around the band’s massive pedal boards.
Barlow began the show with a smile and mumbled something about how he heard that rain doesn’t mix with electricity. Nearly half of the audience was busy putting in ear plugs during that moment, preparing for the massive sonic blast that was to come. Dinosaur Jr is a notoriously loud band and just because there is no roof over the venue does not mean that the crowd can escape the noise. This show, however, seemed (mercifully) quieter than some past shows, and the deafening, esophagus rattling blasts were only endured by those in the first few rows.
The generous time slot (an hour an a half, at sunset) was used in full and the crowd was showered with nothing but hits. The set began with “Thumb,” ended with “Sludgefeast” and included songs from nearly every Dino album since its self-titled debut in 1985. The band played nearly half of the songs on its 1987 classic album, You’re Living All Over Me, to the great delight of those in attendance.
As far as individual songs, the shifting tempo change in the live version of “Feel the Pain” is always interesting to hear when compared to the album version, the glow of the red stage lights during “Out There” can make one feel slightly hypnotized and “Little Fury Things” seemed to get the biggest reaction and the most enthusiastic clapping from the fans.
The LouFest crowd was also given a rare treat when the band played a cover of Deep Wound’s “Training Ground.” Deep Would was the high school band of guitarist J. Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow and the song sounded predictably punk. A joyous mini-pit broke out in front, with fans running in small circles and hug-slamming each other.
The band members, themselves, were in fine form. Murph’s drumming was on point and he got to show off a little, especially during “Feel the Pain.” J Mascis was appropriately shy and subtly funny, ducking out next to the speakers and then explaining that he had to look up the setlist on his iPhone. (And his silver unicorn hair is always a delight to see.) But the man of the day was Lou Barlow. It was LouFest, he pointed out. He killed during “Forget the Swan” and his bass provided clear and distinct thumping as he beamed and strangled the neck. He seemed to be having a great time and after his show he could even be seen standing on stage and sporting a bemused smile as he looked across the baseball fields and watched the crowd groove to Girl Talk.
Dinosaur Jr at LouFest: Setlist
“Back to Your Heart”
“Training Ground” (Deep Wound cover)
“Little Fury Things”
“Feel the Pain”
“Just Like Heaven” (Cure cover)
“Forget the Swan”
link: Riverfront Times
Dinosaur Jr./Lou Barlow & the MissingMen
By Jaime Lees
Published on October 05, 2009
8 p.m. Wednesday, October 14. The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard.
$22 advance, $25 day of show. 314-726-6161.
With grunge-era staples such as “Freak Scene” and “Out There,”Dinosaur Jr. specialized in bittersweet compositions, where even the sad songs were love songs and even the love songs were sad. But they were no crybabies: An impermeable wall of screaming guitar concealed much of this melancholy. To the delight of fans, not much has changed over the past twenty or so years. The older songs still ring true, and the live shows are still a pulverizing avalanche of sound. (The volume of which can only be described as “unholy.”) And don’t call this a nostalgia tour: The band’s new album, Farm, might be its best one yet — supplying a mixture of confessional songwriting and dizzy, throbbing rock. Dino’s own Lou Barlow opens the show in support of his solo album, Goodnight Unknown.
Lou Barlow has indie cred out the ass. As the bass player for Dinosaur Jr (which is playing at the Pageant on Wednesday, October 14), Barlow (alongside guitarist J Mascis and drummer Murph) has been at the forefront of the “alternative” scene since the early ’80s.
And if playing with Dinosaur Jr. wasn’t enough, this dude started college radio gods Sebadoh as a side gig. A side gig! He needed another outlet for his songwriting and — whoops! — he accidentally started freakin’ Sebadoh. Jeez.
Still, it gets crazier. For a few years in the mid-’90s, Barlow fronted psych duo Folk Implosion. Yeah, you know ’em. That’s the band that scored a surprise hit with the spooky “Natural One” off of the soundtrack from the film KIDS.
Oh yeah, and Mr. Midas puts out beautiful lo-fi solo albums, the latest of which, Goodnight Unknown, is released this week on Merge.
We “interviewed” Barlow via email a couple of weeks ago while he was touring with Dinosaur Jr. in Europe. He was gracious enough to write us back, despite the semi-ridiculous questions we sent his way. Thanks, Lou.
Jaime Lees: So you’re doing a weird thing on this tour. In addition to playing with Dinosaur Jr., you’re also the opening act, playing your solo music with a backing band. How does that work out? It seems exhausting. Do you need to take a nappy, Lou Barlow?
naw, the more i play the more energy i have. dino only plays for an hour and half a night. my band will be playing for 45 minutes, tops. we’ll be on a bus, so i can sleep, dino has roadies so i can sit on my ass for most of a day. i’ll be fine.
Your new album, Goodnight Unknown, gets better with each listen. It seems more upbeat than your previous solo work, but it still lovey and conflicted. Do you write about situations in your own life or do you see yourself more as a storyteller?
i’m not a storyteller. at all. the songs are based on situations in my life. i collect phrases that have the right feel when i sing them. string them together around the theme. maybe a particular incident or a general message ( i.e. ‘i love you’ ). songs provide a lot to hide behind. you can get away with murdering the language. as long as the feel is right.
When you’re writing music, how do you decide who gets it? Meaning: Do you write songs for your solo albums and Dinosaur Jr. albums separately? Or does it all start from the same place?
with dino i like to start with improvising bass and drums. finding riffs that feel good. then marrying them with existing melodies or something totally new. the main objective is matching the texture of j’s songs in some way. i don’t want to frankenstein a song i wrote on acoustic into a dino-replica. i want it to be organically dino. if that makes sense. the songs i write on acoustic guitars seem best kept acoustic, for now. those became the songs on ‘goodnight unknown’
So, I really loved those silver and purple limited edition Dinosaur Jr. themed Nike High-Top Dunks. Do you have any other plans to license merchandise like this? And can you hook a ho up with some phat new kicks? (Ladies size 7, please)
i don’t even know how that happened. j’s on a whole other level of brand awareness and profit avenues.
Do you still live in L.A.? What’s the process for when Dinosaur Jr. needs to get together to write, rehearse or record?
i still live in LA. when dino needs me i go back east, stay with my parents and soak up the hometown vibes. and i can bring my wife and the kid out for gramma time.
How on earth do you still have your hearing? I last saw Dinosaur Jr. play in 2006 and it was the loudest MF sound I’ve ever heard in my life. Not just the loudest concert I’ve ever been to, but the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. Many people fled the venue. Those who stayed were shoving cocktail napkins down their ear canals. At least two chicks were crying. Does that make you proud, Lou? Huh? Does it?
no. it’s f-in ridiculous. it’s j’s trip. he is inflexibly dedicated to the idea of extreme volume as a necessity. was then, is now. it’s one of the great mascis mysteries.
i wear 2 pairs of 33 db reduction earplugs. one pair buried in my ear canals, the other gaffer taped on top of those.. it sounds and feels pretty great that way. i experience the songs on a physical level as well as melodic and emotional (i think and dance to them )
we played a show last year with small amps and it was great. we really don’t need the extreme amplification but it’s part of j’s ‘brand’. that’s the ship i’m sailing on and i won’t be mutinying anytime soon. the positives still outweigh the negs.