Sunday, 17 December 2006

Dinosaur Jr.

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I don't get out much. Having a pregnant wife and a 15 month daughter means I have to pick and choose my nights out carefully. Films are pretty much ruled out. Gigs too. That is, until Dinosaur Jr come to town.

The seminal grunge outfit of the late 80s and early 90s formed the backbone of my music collection in my late teens and early 20s. The aloof front man, J.Mascis, frequently features in the "best guitarist ever" polls in music magazines, at least when guitarists themselves are polled.

They split up in the mid-nineties, and did they own thing, and it was something of a surprise when they reformed. Even more of a surprise when they announced a tour. And even more amazing when they included London on their route - this without an album to promote, yet. So when they rolled into town, I decided it was definitely worth using up one of my precious nights out.

So it was with a sense of expectation and excitement that I arrived at the Mean Fiddler last night (formerly the LA2, on the Charing Cross Road). A mixed crowd had turned up to see the masters at work - plenty of folks my age, who remember Dinosaur Jr from last time (one of which was carrying a copy of the Guardian and wearing a blazer - I'm guessing a step away from his teenage attire). Plus several youngsters too, with creative haircuts and tattoos, presumably here for a glimpse of the group who inspired their current favorites.

And inspirational they were. These days, groups with serious guitar credentials usually namecheck Neil Young, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or Dinosaur Jr. The fact that people on the street don't seem to have heard of Dinosaur Jr baffles me to this day. Their 1996 classic album, Where You Been, still features in my all time top five.

The warm up act was the Dinosaur Jr bassist, Lou Barlow, who did an acoustic set of his own material - it was OK, but I'll save my column inches for the main event.

At 9.30pm, J and the team strolled on stage. The group themselves have aged with time, of course. J's trademark long straight hair has turned from black to grey. The old, bald drummer was wearing a short sleeved rugby top (rock and roll!). And the bassist's long curly hair dangled over his face, hiding his age. But who cares - as long as they play great music.

And play great music they did. It was a perfect mix of old stuff (The Wagon, Freakscene, Out There), very old stuff (from their first two albums, Dinosaur and You're Living All Over Me) and new stuff (which stacked up really well against the classics). In fact the new stuff showed off J's talents as well as the old.

To mosh or not to mosh? Well, it was tempting. I was on the edge of what I predicted would be the moshing area as the group came on stage, I bobbed around tentatively to Out There, while younger people set the mosh standard...and then I joined in properly after three tracks. I couldn't help myself. It was just too good. The mosh was fairly tame by standards I remember from the 90s, but still I have the bruises to prove I was there.

I ended up two people from the front, right in front of J - a perfect spot to watch his fretboard action. Not that J likes to interact with crowds....aloof, remember?!

An for an encore, they did their semi-famous cover of The Cure's 'Just Like Heaven', which sent the crowd into a frenzied singalong. They didn't play a couple of my favorites (such as What Else Is New?, and Let It Ride - the latter being my all time fave Dino track) - but he hit all the other buttons. Oh yeah, he's still got it.

The Dinosaur is back.

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