Live at Stylus on Thursday, 31st January 2013
Lou Barlow would like to apologise for kicking a member of the audience in the face at a gig in Leeds in the early nineties. It may be twenty odd years down the road and the band may be a little more grey of hair (J Mascis now looks like a grunge Gandalf) and their gigs may be slightly more sedate affairs but on tonight's showing they certainly have nothing to be sorry for.
For after almost thirty years as a band, including several implosions and line up changes, Dinosaur Jr can still turn in a thunderous live show, full of the type of signature serrated yet mellifluous guitar playing that sets Mascis apart as a true original. Yet how he is able to transmit the power and emotion that he does whilst staring blank faced into the middle distance and firmly rooted to the spot remains a mystery so great that even the Hadron collider might have difficulty solving the conundrum. Of course Lou Barlow has always been the yin to Mascis' yang and as always he provides a visual focal point, defying his advancing years with some frantic pogoing across the stage, his bass slung low and his Cousin It hair covering his face, Whilst drummer Murph remains resolutely detached, a slightly disinterested observer with his baseball cap pulled down low.
Inevitably the new album, last year's highly acclaimed I Bet On Sky, dominates the hour and a half long set. Album highlight Watch the Corners translates brilliantly to the live setting, combining tumbling guitar riffs and a catchy chorus with Mascis' inimitable querulous, plangent vocals which are somewhat disappointingly but perhaps inevitably very low in the mix. But surprisingly the set reaches a peak with an energetic thrash through Barlow's Rude, which on the record feels incongruous and deracinated but here seems to make total sense as it sends the stage divers into a frenzy of activity. However it is not all new material. Two Where You Been classics get an airing in the form of the immense, solo-saturated Get Me and the equally great Start Choppin'. They even, rather charmingly, delve further back into their catalogue with a rare outing for a Deep Wound song, which is given an introduction by Barlow that is bathed in a nostalgic haze that seems to hint at an affection for the simpler, more innocent times in which it was written (perhaps a time when he and Mascis were on speaking terms).
The band return for an encore that feels a little more like an obligatory chore than a joyful reward for their fans but despite ending on this slight down note, the gig is nothing but a triumph for a band that are as impervious to musical trends and popular taste as any band in recent times. With Dinosaur Jr the axiom that states the more things change, the more they stay the same really does hold true and we should be thankful for that. They very rarely diverge from the formula but when the formula is this good why should they? Whilst people love the cathartic power of guitar music there will be a place for Dinosaur Jr.