Dinosaur Jr. is one of those bands that most people have heard of, but fewer have really gotten deeply into. The name is familiar, maybe you remember the video for Feel the Pain when it was in heavy rotation on MTV, or their close relationship with bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine, or in Japan perhaps from the YouTube algorithm quirk led popularity spike of 1994’s Over Your Shoulder in 2019 (strange, but true). If you fall into this ‘I know the name’ category, I highly recommend you spend the majority of your free time between now and Fuji Rock listening to lots and lots of Dinosaur Jr. so we can all enjoy what may prove to be the festival’s most earnest, most beautiful and presumably loudest shows together.
The family unit of Dinosaur Jr. formed in 1984 as the rebellious and smirking high-school angst outlet for J. Mascis (burgeoning band leader), Lou Barlow (who later would form Sebadoh and Folk Implosion) and drummer Murph (just Murph, like Cher). Over the years their musical ambitions would grow, developing from a tight hardcore trio into a melodic but sharp-edged alternative group, all grounded by J’s unique guitars, creakily world-weary vocals and perfectionist musical standards. A lot of people assume that Dinosaur Jr. jumped on the early 90’s grunge train, but the truth is they preceded and surpassed it. Heck, Nirvana used to open for them.
Though the band went through some very tumultuous times, with Lou and Murph both leaving (being fired from?) the group and J carrying on with new members, to the band dissolving in 1997 after the grunge wave crested and album sales plummeted. But like a long and graying haired phoenix from some weird ashes the band returned with their original lineup in 2005, and not surprisingly their musical output (5 more albums) has continued to be uncompromising, beautiful, hard edged and distinctly Dinosaur Jr. ever since.
The magic of the group is in the ingredients and in the recipe. J Mascis is a prolific and unique musician with a clear artistic vision that grounds things, not to mention being a fantastic songwriter not afraid to experiment and who understands the interplay between loud and soft, sweet and sharp. Lou Barlow is a virtuosic bass player, who can support the songs without getting in their way. And Murph is a drummer who is putting it all out there, no frills just bedrock. But when you put them all together, with nearly 40 years of history (interpersonally many of those years not so good), you get one of those rare bands that plays like a family, not like friends or simply bandmates. And they play it loud.
If you aren’t too familiar with the band’s albums, try 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me and 1991’s Green Mind to hear them at their peak, both on independent and major labels. Then give last year’s Sweep It Into Space a listen, and you will see how it is actually possible for a band to grow and mature without losing the spark that made them so powerful in their early days. A rare bird indeed. Oh, and all their other albums are pretty great too (so are J Mascis + The Fog’s albums, but I digress…)
Don’t miss your chance to see these legends on Saturday, and don’t forget to bring some earplugs.