The problem with being a band like Dinosaur, Jr, a band whose original lineup of J. Mascis, Murph, and Lou Barlow found a second life with consistent touring and two very solid studio albums in the latter half of this decade, is that it’s damn near impossible to please all of those who remember you from the first time around.
Depending on how you asked, there was either too many Lou Barlow songs or not enough of Lou. And even with a towering stack of Marshall amps surrounding him on all sides of the stage, Mascis’ guitar wasn’t as loud as it was in ’94. The sound was loud, to be sure, but it didn’t rumble your gut. Then, as for the songs choices, there was no “Start Choppin’.” Barlow admitted they didn’t know that one. Nor, was there “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” Yes, someone requested some Belinda Carlisle cheesy-pop when the request for “Start Choppin'” was denied. The band didn’t know that one, either.
Now, what Dinosaur, Jr did have, was something any touring band would kill for — J. Mascis — a man who is one of, if not the greatest modern rock guitarist. Perhaps, Paul Shirley put it best. In writing for ESPN, he called Mascis a virtuoso, and added, ” Even if I didn’t like his music, it would have been fun to watch him for the same reason it’s fun to watch Roger Federer play tennis or it’s fun to watch Glenn Beck spew outlandish theories that make him look provincial and ignorant. It’s fun to watch people do things they’re really good at.”
And it would have been awesome to see Mascis and his straight, shoulder length gray hair work that fretboard, however, unless you were one of the lucky few to be pressed tightly up against the sold-out, Grog Shop stage, the best you could get was a glimpse of the man and his big amps, and listen, and nod your head, and if you were able to carve out a small 2X2 space for yourself, pogo.
Mascis’ rambling riffs on “Thumb,” “Out There,” and “Forget the Swan” dazzled the ears. Yet, even at his loudest and fuzziest best, Mascis stood stoically between his three towers of power, letting the guitar, and those Marshalls do their business. On the other side of the stage, Barlow, looking much as he did in ’94 — With the same floppish hair, but now sporting a goatee — Could be found thrashing his bass, as if he was the one responsible for all those thunderous riffs.
Unlike their set earlier this year at Musica in Akron, there were no false starts and no gear issues. Mascis, Murph, and Barlow ripped through “Feel the Pain,” as if they were the band responsible for it. Remember, by the time Dinosaur, Jr cracked the alterna-teen mainstream, Murph and Barlow were both long gone.
Strangely, this would lead to another complaint I heard Friday night — They were too tight. There weren’t enough mistakes and the songs were too smooth. Too smooth, not loud enough, too much Lou, not enough Lou, no “Start Choppin'”, no “Heaven is a Place on Earth,” whatever. Tell me it didn’t feel good to pump your fist in the air and let out that big, vicious “Yoooooouuuuuu” during the chorus of “Just Like Heaven.” It was just like ’94 or ’92 or whenever it was the first time you saw Dinosaur, Jr.
Dinosaur, Jr Set List — Cleveland, Heights, OH 11.20.09
2. In a Jar
3. Imagination Blind
4. Get Me
6. Feel the Pain
7. Over It
8. Out There
9. Little Fury Things
10. Back to Your Heart
12. Freak Scene
13. Forget the Swan
14. Just Live Heaven (The Cure cover)
15. Mountain Man