Dinosaur Jr with Lou Barlow and the Missing Men - The Middle East (Cambridge, MA) - Friday, October 2, 2009
I can't think of a bill where the opening act was also playing with the headliner, but that was the case when Lou Barlow did double duty, first enlisting Mike Watt's band (The Secondmen, here rebadged as the Missingmen) and then opening the evening with a generous helping of his new record, Goodnight Unknown, to be released on October 6. The record boasts Dale Cover (Melvins) on drums for six of the songs, but live it was Raul Morales behind the pumpkin-adorned kit, with ex-Slovenly guitar whiz Tom Watson to his right. The songs were a bit knottier than the gentle songs of the last couple of Lou records, hearkening back to mid-period Sebadoh. Live, he played guitar mainly, and provided bass notes via a foot-operated organ pedal-type contraption. You could tell it was opening night for the band as it took three different tries to launch into opener "Sharing" before Lou got the capo on the right fret. Once settled in, Lou provided a quick anecdote about introducing California-based Tom and Raul to the courtesies of Boston drivers, when they realized they were in the Fast Lane toll lane but needed to get into the cash lane. The songs were pretty much settled in the mid-tempo end of the spectrum, and Lou's strength of writing a memorable melody was still evident in songs like "Faith In Your Heartbeat." Tom's wiry guitar style worked well as a foil, and it was great to finally see him play live.
If there's one thing that Dinosaur Jr is known for, it's volume. Crunching, massive sonic waves that puncture eardrums. Amazingly enough, in the low-ceiling shoebox that is the Middle East downstairs, the sound was really clear. J's got six Marshall quad cabinets behind him, and Lou and Murph are certainly not under-amplified either, but every time I've seen them the sound has been excellent. Kudos to whomever tackles soundboard duties for the band. If you haven't been following their movements of late, Lou's been back in the band as of 2005 and it's fairly incredible that not only have they really jelled as fully-formed band once again, their two records recorded post-reunion can stand shoulder to shoulder against anything previously released. Most reunions lack that kind of creative spark, but Beyond and 2009's Farm truly belong in any collection that also houses Bug or Where You Been. There are no new tricks here; it's not like J's suddenly discovered Indian ragas, or Murph is playing with brushes - no, the laconic vocals and utter crunch of all three are still fully intact. Highlights included the excellent "Pieces," as good as a song as J's ever written, the great vocal harmonies of J and Lou on "Forget The Swan" from their debut LP, and "Imagination Blind," a Lou-penned song from the new record. J's parents were there to watch the tour opener, and the first of two sold out nights were jammed with people eager to see the band; for these types of shows you can count on the 'back in the day' crowd, but Dinosaur's got a prominent younger-aged audience as well.
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