sat 24/08/2019

Dinosaur Jr, Koko | reviews, news & interviews

Dinosaur Jr, Koko

Dinosaur Jr, Koko

Alternative rock survivors as vital as ever

Hardcore, grunge, nu-metal and emo all rose and fell, but Dinosaur Jr just kept on keeping on with their formula of Mascis's plaintively-sung pop melodies and extensive guitar soloing over churning, stoned waves of distortion.  A fusion of Hendrix's electrified lyricism and Black Sabbath's heaviosity filtered through the Ramones' no-nonsense dynamics, the formula works as well on 2007's Beyond and this year's Farm as it did on their most successful records Bug (1988) and Green Mind (1991) – and, while never exactly making Mascis a superstar, it has attracted successive generations of discerning rock kids to the Dinosaur fold, as visible in the impressively age-diverse crowd at Koko last night.
Unsurprisingly for a band with so little interest in innovation or hype, Dinosaur Jr don't hold with fancy stagecraft either.  At Koko the three of them were simply aligned in a row along the front of the stage, Mascis in front of three huge stacks of Marshall amps, and there was no lightshow and practically no banter bar a couple of brief, droll intros from Barlow.  Songs began abruptly and ended even more so, generally with with Mascis clicking one of his effects pedals to suddenly reduce the raging guitar distortion to silence.
Amazingly, the band look as good as they ever have.  The impassive Mascis was a man born to have grey hair, and his generous snowy mane, combined with low-key skater clothes and Gong T-shirt made him a perfect archetype of a particular kind of American outsider; the slightly professorial-looking Barlow and lithe, bald Murph have likewise grown into their personal styles.  Though grunge is often seen as anti-image, actually Dinosaur Jr's subtle cool on stage is a vital part of what has made them indie icons.
Their music is likewise a lot more sophisticated than their dry demeanour, pop melodies and straight-ahead approach immediately suggests.  The thick layers of distortion and delay on Mascis's guitar and Barlow's bass built up huge harmonically complex layers of sound through which their songs and Mascis's solos precisely navigated, and Murph's drumming, while rock-solid and adherent to four-square rhythms was full of athletic fills and subtle surprises.
Those guitar solos that run through every track old and new are the key to the band's brilliance.  Bridging the psychedelic flights of Hendrix to a more earthy American tradition that runs through Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top and even Guns 'N Roses and Bon Jovi, they felt elemental, like Mascis was tapping into the mainline of rock and blues, and while technically dazzling they worked first and foremost on the most basic emotional level.
At first the audience nodded along to the songs, prompting fears that the atmosphere was going to be stymied by London hipster nonchalance, but within half an hour the youngsters at the front were shoving one another around gleefully, and by the time the band hit classic songs “The Wagon” and “Freak Scene”, the ground floor audience was a seething mass of Brownian motion.
On a lengthy finale of “I Don't Wanna Go There” from Farm, all the elements that had made the set great seemed to be redoubled, and the band really took flight.  Mascis's epic solo, in particular, showed that his T-shirt was not worn ironically and that he has a real, deep-rooted understanding of psychedelia.  Its baroque twists and turns were both hypnotic and intensely moving, and its fusion of visceral sound and carefully-crafted structure and melody was the perfect realisation of what has kept Dinosaur Jr vital while others have fallen by the wayside.  Long may they fail to innovate.

Share this article

Comments

Excellent review - encapsulates how I felt about them when I saw them a couple of years ago in Brighton. They have a tried and tested formula which they stick to but it works. I shed a tear or two during 'Freak Scene'.

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters