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Dinosaur Jr, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, May 18th 2010

May 19, 2010

OK, so now for a review that won’t mention any song titles… I didn’t bother making any notes and, in any case, although I’ve listened to Dinosaur Jr over the years – and been to at least a couple of their gigs – I’ve never bought any of their records or paid them much attention. Which is fine – we can’t all be obsessives, or even fans. So I don’t know any of their song titles. Of course, I could cheat and check on the Internet for a setlist and go on at length about this song being better than that song and so on, but you wouldn’t want me to cheat, would you?

I got there in time to see support band Built To Spill, as I’d heard good things about them from online compadres whose judgment I trust. I wasn’t much impressed, though, despite wanting to like them. They’ve got that heavy American indie sound, as if The Cure early on had ditched Robert Smith and shacked up with Lemmy. There were some groovy Crazy Horse-style jams, but they weren’t to my ears soulful enough. Mainman Doug Martsch has expressed his displeasure at having to write lyrics and sing, so why not just play instrumentals, then? To be fair, the tempo picked up towards the end of their set, but the offhandedness was offputting, and I don’t feel they have enough of a sound unique to themselves to be anything other than part of the pack.

I hadn’t seen Dinosaur Jr for about twenty years, but in my memory they’re associated with 80s bands like Swans, Sebadoh, Mudhoney and the Butthole Surfers. All of whom were fine for a good show, but whose legacy is not so clear. They probably influenced slightly later bands like Nirvana, the Pixies and Pearl Jam to an extent, but they themselves have faded from view. So I was intrigued to hear what it all sounded like twenty years later. And the answer was: much the same.

I’d decided to wear earplugs for this show, as they can play very loud indeed. I’m a big fan of loud music but I don’t want to go deaf just because I enjoy a gig or two… This was only the third show I’d worn them to – the other two being noise-drone merchants Sunn O))) at Koko last year, and My Bloody Valentine at The Roundhouse the previous year, at which gig I saw two people in tears and one flat out on the floor because it was so loud. I took the plugs along for the Lou Reed Metal Machine Music evening the other month, as Laurie Anderson had called the show ‘ear-bleedingly loud’, but she must have a different sonic tolerance to me and they remained uninserted.

Guitarist and singer J Mascis, bass-player Lou Barlow and replacement drummer Kyle Somebody-or-other came out to a cheer and plugged into the alarmingly tall set of amps. The first few songs were slow and grindier than the rest of the set, reminding me of the more hardcore elements of early Sonic Youth, and of Year Of The Horse-era Neil Young. As things speeded up, there were suggestions of Bob Mould and a heavier version of The Ramones. The crowd were now getting into it, with lots of moshing and a bit of crowd-surfing, but the punked-up songs sounded samey to me after a while – get a good heavy riff, punkify it, add some manic drumming and a solo in the middle, then speed your way to the end. As with The Ramones, this is all very much fun and dumb, but can be wearing after a time. So yeah, I enjoyed it, but maybe I’ll leave it another twenty years.

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