Dinosaur Jr. with OFF! and an interview conducted by Henry Rollins at The Paradise Rock Club, Boston, on Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
The 'play your entire LP' meme pretty much had a shark jump moment over two years ago when Clutch of all bands decided to parade their debut LP in front of a heavy throng of mouth breathers but the trend really shows no signs of waning. Dinosaur Jr.'s no stranger this, having previously played their sophomore effort (You're Living All Over Me was part of 2006's All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Thurston Moore) and instead of just a rote read-through of an LP that has more seven more birthday cards than Pitchfork, they decided to add a wrinkle by inviting noted raconteur/punk legend Henry Rollins along to conduct a short Q&A session with the band prior to the performance. To sweeten the deal, OFF! has been added to a handful of dates, and luckily Boston was on the receiving end of one of their appearances.
For those living under a moss-covered stone, OFF! is the brainchild of two punk icons, Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks fame, and Steve McDonald from Redd Kross. Formed during the aborted sessions of a Circle Jerks recording session headed by Burning Brides guitarist Dmitri Coats and Morris, this pack of firebrands aren't pretending to plowing new furrows in the musical soil. No, they know their strengths and stick to them: forty-five seconds of focused adrenaline and rage, hemmed in by barbed wire guitar chords and a razor-sharp rhythm section. At this point they've only got one LP under their belt and the rapid fire succession left them with about the same amount of time between songs as actually playing them, but Morris took one of those catch-your-breath moments to expound on the loss of a dear friend, and "Jeffrey Lee Pierce" struck a poignant moment amidst the bulldozing treatment.
Rollins is a man of many words, and Mascis is a man of very few. Going into this, I was curious to see how the interaction would come together, and predictably there were a few single word/sentence utterances from Mascis, with the bulk of the questions being handled by Murph. Rollins probed around the emergence of the band from the post-hardcore roots, life on the road, breaking out in Europe and the possibility of whether the band considered excising the F bombs in the breakthrough single "Freak Scene," which evoked a smirk from Barlow. Telling of his formative purchase of the Dead Kennedy's "Too Drunk To Fuck" in 1981, Barlow said the band never even gave it a moment's thought, and that reference segued into Rollins' tale of hosting DK leader Jello Biafra at his house once, only to find himself on the floor and Biafra sleeping in the sole bed. According to Rollins, he did play a test pressing of that particular 7" though, and the Dinosaur Jr guys all agreed that it seemed like an even swap. All in all, it was a relatively modest success and I'm glad that they tried it, but perhaps it was an opportunity lost to not invite Morris on stage and have the Dinosaur guys query both of them about Black Flag experiences.
As a record, Bug was a very important one for the band. It marked the ascension from SST to Warners, and would also be the last one that Barlow would be part of until the reformation in the mid 2000s. Communication was breaking down, and according to Byron Coley's liner notes in the recent reissue, the band was pretty much Mascis working out of his relocated home of NYC and then bringing songs to the band and directing every nuance of the recording sessions. Given such circumstances, it's not hard to see how a song like "Don't" would be created, until you realize that though Barlow is singing (nay, screaming) the lyrics of "Why Don't You Like Me?" over and over again, the song was actually written by Mascis. That song ended the set (the bonus track of "Keep The Glove" included on the reissue was omitted for obvious reasons) and with Barlow suffering from a rather severe case of laryngitis, he asked for a couple of volunteers to provide the anguished vocals while the band churned out a sub-Stoogian grind. Normally I would have preferred to hear something else, and with the 'whole LP' format you get warts and all, but this was a case of the song really fitting a purpose and was a perfect closer. Just as the regular set started with a couple of non-Bug songs ("In A Jar" and "The Wagon" before the crowd surge happened during "Freak Scene"), the encore did as well. Barlow tantalized the crowd a little unfairly by asking "How great would be it be if we reeled off a few Black Flag songs?" With Rollins watching from the stage right edge, and Morris in the building, a 1-2 punch of "Nervous Breakdown" and "Rise Above" would have been spectacular, but alas was not to be. Still, one can't argue with "Out There" (Murph was a monster on this one, and I love that rifle crack of the snare that he does during "Yeah We Know"; he's certainly underrated as a drummer) and "The Lung," and it was a great night of SST records alums.