Dinosaur Jr. and the great indoors
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
I had a ticket in hand, but I wasn’t certain on whether to cash it in. It’d had been a long time.
And of course it has — if you’re reading this, you’ve also existed in this sequestered pandemic weirdness. And, if you’ve treated it with any of the seriousness it requires, a lot of social settings have been off limits, removed and slowly reintroduced as circumstances allow. Restaurants came first, then bars. Concerts were last, and even now, they remain no sure thing. I caught two outdoor shows at the end of the summer, rescheduled from 2020, and those were great, but I hadn’t had my face blasted off by an impassioned band in a truly intimate venue in more than two years.
But standing in the back of Boston’s House of Blues for the first time in who-knows-how-long, watching as J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph confidently stepped in and out of their opening number, “Bulbs of Passion,” with all its changes in tempos, shouts, screams and blazing guitar leads, while that overwhelming crunch of sound rushed through me and about 2,000 vaccinated fans, well, that was a special feeling.
It was a long time in the making. I bought my ticket for this show in March, when it seemed like November would obviously be well into a post-pandemic reality, where huddling into an indoor show wouldn’t be so terrifying. About eight months later, with variants running about and face masks still very much a reality of daily life, going to the show came with a little more hesitation. But, I’d paid, I was going with a friend, we’ve been responsible through all this, so we were going.
As a bonus, the Lemonheads had been added to the bill. This apparently took place in May, but I didn’t notice until the day of, while I was double-checking when doors opened. And as the owner of a car that still has a CD player, which through the past two weeks still has Car Button Cloth in the stereo by default, this was an incredible discovery. Boston band or not, I’d never had the good fortune to catch them before, but Evan Dando and company stepped on stage and killed it. Dando was in excellent voice and had all the calm strut of a weathered legend, seemingly equal parts confident and grateful. And hearing “there’s a disease / going ’round the hospital” in the aptly named “Hospital” was a nice moment of unintentional dark humor for these times.
And about these times, the reminder of the realities of mingling with large groups of people was a bit stark. Remember that control is nonexistent, and all these people are just thrown together from all walks of life with this one common thread of a band or two. Which brings me to the group of five or six folks who immediately congregated behind us as the Lemonheads started their set, with one of them screaming to a friend and also, impressively, directly in my ear, “IS THIS DINOSAUR JR?!” That kind of thing went on for longer than we would’ve liked, but starting a fight or even shooting them a dirty look isn’t going to make anything better. So we moved to the back of the floor, with a little more elbow room and the comforting presence of other people who were seriously into the experience of feeling Mascis’ guitar cut through the masks and flattening everyone within the reach of his ridiculous triple stack.
Accepting what can be controlled and what can’t, surrendering to the sonic wallop of Dinosaur Jr. after so much time away from live music was more than enough of a remedy. Who could stay in a bad mood throughout all this? The band had a new record, Sweep It Into Space, that took on new life in front of an audience. Before “Garden,” bassist Lou Barlow took the opportunity to sing “Happy Birthday” to his 12-year-old son Hendrix and, by virtue of having the same birthday, the late Jimi Hendrix. Barlow also hyped up their metal chops before the band tore into a nasty version of “Mountain Man” from their debut LP. He was clearly in a good mood, just as he has been every other time I’ve seen the band live.
Again, how could he not be? After nearly two years without the rush of live performance and another coronavirus-related setback delaying the start of this tour, to be closing out a successful trip in front of a sold-out crowd had to be a thrill. I wasn’t on stage, but I can vouch for my view from the opposite side of the room that watching Barlow swing his right arm and headbang his mop in time, while Murph laid down the thunder and Mascis shredded through their setlist, felt like a delirious trip back through times seemingly long gone.
It wasn’t nostalgia, though. It was real and present, the potency of a bad-ass rock band plugging in and tearing it down, with a crowd just ready to be pulled into oblivion by the sound. Most of the crowd, anyway. The outliers will always be there, just an obstacle to be overcome on the road to anything worthwhile. As Dr. Thompson said, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” And the ride was wild.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org