Dinosaur Jr has two groups of fans: Those who listened in the 80s and have gotten back into the band since the original line up reformed in 2005, and those who had never heard of Dino until their reunion, who then went back and listened to the ground-breaking older albums.
Regardless of which group you fall into, you will appreciate Earwax for bringing the group, along with Trail of Dead and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, to Taipei for the Don’t Look Back Vol. 1 concert on Thursday.
For veterans of the music scene, there is nostalgia to Dino’s newest album, I Bet On Sky. That the sound is more laid back than previous efforts wasn’t a conscious decision, said drummer Murph: “That’s the way it comes out when you get more mellow. The guys have families, J [Mascis] gets struck creatively by different things at different times, it’s random.”
The cohesion and creativity shown on this album echoes the harmony that now exist between band members Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph.
They released three albums in their first manifestation, and have released three more since 2005. The earlier material, with influences from hardcore punk, garage, country, rock, Goth and heavy metal guitar riffs, still has impact, and combined with Barlow’s melodic, lo-fi distorted bass, Murph’s heavy drum beats, and Mascis’s genius on guitar and monotone drawl, the music helped shape a generation.
And they haven’t lost their edge — though their sound has become more polished. “The new songs are more mellow so it makes for a more interesting set list with our older stuff, you can tailor it more to the gigs,” Murph said.
The band broke up in 1989 after touring for the album Bug, which Mascis refers to as his least favorite album and ironically is the one he had the most control over. Barlow left or was kicked out (it depends on who you ask) of the band and went on to make music with Sebadoh, which until then had been a side project.
Mascis began attending Sebadoh shows in the mid-90s but it took almost 10 years for the rift between them to heal and the band to reform. “The group dynamic is good, [though] there can be a weird friction,” said Murph. “But we’ve all mellowed in our own ways since the early days. Since J’s had his son he’s gotten way more tolerant, his wife and kid came on tour with us for four days and having the kid on the bus makes things better. He’s five years old, he’ll get up onto my drum kit and beat on the drums, he’s really goofy and fun, if you get nervous before a show it breaks any nervous energy to have him there.”
There’s a disarming awkwardness about Mascis with his frumpy old hippie hair to his sense of humor that makes you wonder if he inspired Barlow to coin the term losercore (the title of a single Barlow released in 1993 with another side project Sentridoh).
It could be used to describe the whole self-conscious comedy movement, which Mascis is a fan of. “J is really into Portlandia, Funny or Die and the Mighty Boosh, getting more into cameo acting,” said Murph.
It doesn’t always work for the laid back drummer: “Funny, when I was younger I was into darker weirder stuff,” he said. “Now I’m older and more set in my ways I don’t find it as funny.” He laughed when I remind him of Barlow’s single Losercore and suggest the term awkwardcore. “Some people like that feeling, think it’s really cool,” he said. “J loves that awkward feeling.”
Funny or Die came up with the concept of Dino’s newest video for Watch the Corners starring Tim Heidecker of Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show as a distraught dad who can’t handle his teenage daughter’s romance with a stock boy.
“Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore has a cameo in the music video and is also on the bill for the show in Taipei. Sonic Youth toured with Dinosaur Jr in the mid-80s and over the years Moore and Kim Gordon have became tight with the Mascis family, even relocating to their neighborhood: “Thurston and Kim moved from New York to North Hampton,” Murph said. “Their 17-year-old daughter is in a band, created a new noise scene there.” (Their daughter Coco Gordon Moore is the frontwoman for punk band Big Nils).
The fact that Dino’s members are more family-oriented or that the new album is a bit mellow compared to earlier releases doesn’t mean they’ve fallen into the realm of Dinosaur Sr just yet, and Don’t Look Back Vol. 1 should be a killer show with all three bands bringing that 90s alternative feeling and noise ethos to a head.