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Love/hate: the mirthful Dinosaur Jr. at Northern Lights.

Photo: Joe Putrock

Bring the Noise, Again

By David King

Dinosaur Jr.

Northern Lights, Oct. 4

 

Lou Barlow is falling apart on stage and it is wonderful. His band Lou Barlow and the Missingmen have spent more time tuning, griping and collapsing midsong than anything else. “This is our third show. They’ve all been disasters in their own way,” Barlow quips, smiling. “We love you Lou!” someone shouts to reassure him. But Barlow doesn’t need the reassurance. He seems to be having a fun time accepting his dysfunction.

I can relate. I’ve just popped a Xanax. I’m 27, but I feel middle-age tonight, neurotic, health-obsessed. There is a kink in my back that could very well be a tumor or, more likely, the ravages of sitting on dilapidated furniture (the kind of hand-me-down couch a journalist’s salary allows). I’m sweating, and there are too many people around. Oh, and did I mention I’m full of regret—Dinosaur Jr. regret?

It’s 1993. I’m 12. My friend Ben switches his CD changer ahead a track to skip the “boring track,” the one without distortion. Fuzzed-out guitars swell. We head-bang and air-drum as the album comes to a close. I tell Ben I like the Meat Puppets. He scolds me: “Not hard enough.” The next CD is fuzzed out like Smashing Pumpkins, but it’s just too messy for me; the vocalist sounds old, and sort of country. It’s Dinosaur Jr., and for some reason it just can’t hold our attention. He skips forward to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” If only I had stopped him.

It’s the year 2000. I begin finding tracks by J. Mascis and the Fog (the Dinosaur leader’s post-breakup/pre-reunion band) on my Napster account. My dormmate has been using my computer again. He didn’t read the student handbook’s section on personal space. I take a quick listen. It’s messy and weird. Select all; delete. If I had only sacrificed the hard-drive space.

Tonight there isn’t anything to regret and there isn’t anything more right than Dinosaur Jr. Shockwaves from amps send pulse waves through the air as Mascis puts his hands on the strings of his Jazzmaster. Like a cross between Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix, Mascis tears the notes from his guitar, sending burning distortion coursing through the crowd. His voice, in contrast, sounds 100 years old, full of ache, grizzled, insecure, lost and lonely. A protruding gut and long gray hair sell it even harder. “I feel the pain of everyone/Then I feel nothing,” he croaks. I’ve heard it so many times before, but it makes my heart drop and my nerves stand on end.

Barlow slouches over his bass, pounding out thundering notes and triumphant riffs that could easily be mistaken for Iron Maiden. Barlow and Mascis’ notorious rivalry seems to play out on stage as both thrash at each other with their instruments in a cantankerous sonic duel. Earlier Barlow mentioned that he had purchased a new amp. “That makes my rig taller than Jay’s,” he laughed, adding, “I win.” The band’s cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” is a treat terrorized by Barlow’s screamed backup vocals.

The band’s new release, Farm, provides the highlight of the night. Punctuated by Mascis’ heartfelt moan, “I Don’t Wanna Go There” feels vital and important rather compared to their back catalog, as new tunes from other reunited ’90s bands tend to.

The night isn’t perfect. Long tuning breaks leave the mostly 20s-and-under crowd bored. There’s a sense of trepidation about when to start a song or what song to actually play, and Mascis occasionally seems distracted, more interested in gnashing piercing dissonance from his guitar than actually playing. The stage is full of awkward.

But it’s the dysfunction—the big, sloppy guitar mess, the palpable tension—that makes the show worthwhile. It feels so tenuous, like it could explode into ugly distortion and failure at any moment. Dinosaur Jr. aren’t perfect, but they wouldn’t be worth a damn if they were.


Power Kraut

Faust

GE Theatre at Proctors, Sept. 30

In the summer of 1968, two Schenectadians would graduate from Mont Pleasant high school and go on to become innovative artists with far- reaching influence in their respective fields. One was filmmaker John Sayles, respected maker of low-budget films with a social conscience. The other was an exchange student by the name of Jean-Hervé Peron, a quiet Franco-German who, upon returning to his native Germany, would become politically radicalized and, in his own words, “a lot weirder looking.” He’d also co-found Faust, the influential krautrock band who would mix Velvet Underground-style noise with a Dada-esque flair for the absurd and confrontational. So it was a homecoming of sorts when Peron took the stage at Proctors’ GE Theater last week during a rare visit to the States, joined by fellow Faust founder Werner Diermaier on drums and younger British upstarts James Johnston (guitar) and Geraldine Swayne (primarily vocals, guitar, and keys).

Per their reputation as pioneers of underground rock, I wondered how weird the band would still be after all these years. I’m happy to report that things started off plenty strange. As Swayne commenced the show with a lullaby churned from a small music box, Peron proceeded to pour water and small stones into a twirling cement mixer, creating a whining drone that sounded much like labored breathing. The band proceeded into a head-bobbing groove punctuated by scarifying guitar bursts from Johnston. The video accompaniment unfurled into the first 15 minutes of F.W. Murnau’s classic film version of the Faust legend; the band answered the dramatic opening scenes with a churn that devolved into a recitation of various dictators and food (“Pol Pot! George Custer! Stalin! Goat cheese!”).

Almost overshadowed by the power of Murnau’s images on the big screen, the band’s performance took a turn for the better when the video stopped and Faust started to flesh out the art mayhem with songs. Things were dominated (in a very good way) by the stomp of Diermaier, an ogre of a man who punctuated his pounding polyrhythms by occasionally bashing a piece of sheet metal that hung near his head. While Peron played bass primarily, he proved quite adept at trumpet and classical guitar, at one point leading the audience into an extended rhythmic exercise where the beats were subdivided by 1, 5 and 4—progressive rock indeed.

There were also visits to some of the most accessible songs from Faust IV: the playful “The Sad Skinhead,” and one of my favorite songs of all time, the brooding “Jennifer,” a direct precursor to where Radiohead and Mazzy Star would travel 20 years later. For the remainder of the show, the band hardly touched the ground, taking the noise possibilities of White Heat-era Velvet Underground into outer space, and making their signature alchemic mixture of Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and Autobahn rhythm come to life, krautrock melting minds down in old Schenectady.

—Mike Hotter


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