I didn’t care how miserable and coughing and stuffed-up I was, I was not about to miss a chance to see Dinosaur Jr. live. One of my favorite bands, whom I’ve yet to have the chance to see perform, reunited in their original classic lineup and having just put out an excellent new album. I’d already paid for the two tickets and arranged a vacation day from work. You better believe I’m going, and I wouldn’t care if I was literally hacking up my lungs.
And after we made the drive up to Minneapolis, took a wrong turn and got kind of lost for a while (far too easy to do in that city), and finally stumbled onto the right street, then walked three blocks or so in a sudden torrential downpour that decided to hit just as we were parking the car, the show did not disappoint in the least.
We stood outside for a moment with a small group of showgoers having a smoke before going in, as I had decided to punish my lungs for getting sick on me. You can’t smoke in bars in Minneapolis, and the state has all sorts of weird alcohol laws that always surprise us Iowa kids as being more strict than we’re used to. They have those 3.2 laws and a lot of taxes on the stuff, liquor stores close at 10 and bars at 1, and you can’t buy at all on Sundays. As we were hanging out there, Murph actually approached our little group to ask if the door was open. I thought he looked familiar but couldn’t place him; I don’t think anybody even recognized him, or perhaps they were just being polite by purposely not doing the “Hey wow, you’re Murph! Dude you rock!” kind of thing.
Shortly after the start of Awesome Color’s set (here’s their MySpace too) we took up a post near the front, in front of where guitarist/singer Derek Stanton and his little, very vintage-looking amp stood in front of Mascis’s wall of raggedy-looking Marshall cabinets (one of which bore a masking-tape label that read “DINOSAUR JR SR.” I found this amusing – “Dinosaur Junior Senior” – before it occurred to me that the SR probably stood for “stage right”).
I’d never heard this trio before. Their presence was very sincere and friendly: “Hi, how you guys doing? Yeah, we’re just hanging out, about to play some music.” They asked if anyone in the crowd would like to hang out with them tomorrow and show them some good spots to skate; someone offered up that they have a ramp in their yard. While playing their songs, their energy was huge and full of enthusiasm despite not having much stage space to move around in. Their lengthy, hypnotic, heavy space-rock numbers evoke the same kind of open deserted (mid)western spaces as Caustic Resin does, but in a more lysergic than opiate depiction. (The band claimed to be from Fargo, though a little research reveals that they are Michiganers transplanted to Brooklyn – cue the requisite but not undeserved Stooges comparisons.) Drummer Alison Busch, who looks as if she could very well be as young as 15, bashed her kit relentlessly with a big gleeful grin; as a rhythm section, Busch and bassist Michael Troutman sounded huge, and were spot on and steady, giving plenty of space for Stanton to roam with alternately tuneful and destructive guitar solos that were often exhilarating, but whose length and frequency had the tendency to feel excessive on occasion. What was especially great about these solo sections though, is how they would end – with no apparent cue, suddenly the whole band would land together on a dime into the next verse or chorus or the ending of the song, seemingly aided by telepathy. Which is another way of saying that this band knows what the hell they’re doing. I was surprised after the show when Leah bought their CD – normally I would think that she would consign this kind of thing as “Chuck music.”
Judah made it to the club as Dinosaur were getting started, but by then the place was pretty packed so I didn’t see him until after the set. As the band launched into “Almost Ready,” my first thought was, “holy crap, that’s loud.” I continue to eschew earplugs these days against my better judgment, but I had adjusted by the end of the song.
Dinosaur’s set was near perfect. Early on, one of J Mascis’s pedals broke and started emitting some of the craziest noises I’ve ever heard come out of a guitar amp. A tech who looked like a more road-dirty version of (Diplomats Of Solid Sound guitarist and Picador booking guy/bartender) Doug Roberson quickly grabbed it, patched around it, and took it off to the side where, with the aid of a flashlight, he had it fixed and patched back in after two more songs. Nothing seemed to be missing from J’s sound without it, but I was impressed with this little event. That guy, whoever he was, is a pro.
The set mixed together material from nearly all eras of Dinosaur, with the exception of the self-titled debut (though one guy in the crowd shouted for “Mountain Man” a few times) – plenty of stuff from the new album Beyond including Lou’s “Back To Your Heart,” classics from Bug and You’re Living All Over Me, and such post-Barlow classics as “Out There” and “The Wagon,” with the low-end toughened up as only Barlow can do it. The only song that didn’t seem to come off flawlessly (aside from the technical issue mentioned earlier) was “Feel The Pain,” during which the rhythm wobbled considerably during the verse sections, but which was also spiced up with exaggerated tempo changes.
The band seemed to be genuinely having a great time playing together, which was great to see. Mascis is a pretty low-key guy, but he took a couple between-song moments to shake hands with one fan and joke around with a lady who shouted to him “You’re still cute, J!” and tried to get him to take his shirt off. Lou was smiling all the way through, and I think Murph was too.
Of course, an encore after the main set was inevitable, the crowd even getting a chant of “Di-no-saur! Di-no-saur!” going in between, in part because there was no way they were going anywhere without playing “Freak Scene.” Which they then did, before rounding out the night with a note-perfect run of one of their most complex old-school numbers “Sludgefeast.” During it’s famous ending, J surprised me a little bit by letting the chugging hardcore riff carry it through instead of launching into another solo – which turned out to be the perfect thing to do at that moment. Pure rock and roll awesomeness.
On our way back to Judah’s apartment, I thought I saw Lou walking down the street toward the Holiday Inn, but Leah pointed out that the person I saw had a different color shirt on. Still, I wish we would have stopped for a closer look, and if it was him, maybe offered him a ride. Oh well, coulda-woulda-shoulda.
We crashed out on the floor of Judah’s tiny bedroom, and in the morning we got up and the three of us walked into Dinkytown for coffee and a bite to eat. Dinkytown seemed smaller than I remembered it from last time I’d been there, and with less record shops and other such cool features. The only record shop we could find was a CD Warehouse that was nearly emptied out, in the process of moving. This was kind of a bummer, but ya know, the music business is changing from top to bottom; I still feel confident that whatever comes out of it will be great, though different from what we grew up with. Judah returned back to his place to get some work done, and we wandered around a bit more, into one of those crazy-crammed-full used bookstores. Man, I love the bookstores up there. It’s a good thing we didn’t hang around too long, there’s no telling how much money I might have spent. Any book I could think of from my mental wish list seemed to be there, and at good prices too. I ended up picking up an old but good-condition copy of Godel, Escher, Bach for a mere $6.75. How cool is that?
Disaster struck when we returned to Judah’s apartment and Leah found the diamond missing from her wedding ring, and the prongs all bent out of shape. It would have had to get smashed pretty hard into something for that to happen, I would think, so figuring that she must have rolled onto it or hit it against something in her sleep, I combed the floor of the apartment for it. No luck on that, and no insurance or warranty on it to replace it. Very sad.
We ventured back out, downtown for a late lunch, though with no idea initially of where, only that we felt like eating something a bit exotic that we wouldn’t be able to get just any day back home. We wandered the streets a little while and stumbled on a little mall with a Jamaican food place in it. The food was awesome; I wish I could remember the name or location so I could recommend it here. Afterwards we took Judah back home. He keeps trying to talk us into moving up there, but I don’t think Minneapolis agrees with me as a place to live as well as Waterloo does, or even as well as some other cities would. We waited out the first hour of rush hour at a bar in Dinkytown, and took off for out of town just as the rain that had been on-and-off for much of the day turned into a full-on storm. In a bit of crazy coincidence, we ran into my boss and the company’s creative director also on their way home from meeting with some client, at a gas station well outside of the city. The rain kept up and we made it home around 10 or 11 Wednesday night, with my cold or whatever it is still intact and a great rock and roll experience and a fun day in the city added to our memories.