The distance from Amherst to Cambridge is less than 100 miles, but the road that led Dinosaur Jr. to the Sinclair on Wednesday has been much longer. Their journey spans 30 years and includes a name change, acrimony that is the stuff of legends, a founding member being fired, and an against-all-odds reconciliation.
Dinosaur Jr. formed in 1984 at UMass Amherst and quickly shaped the landscape of indie/college rock. Their second effort, You’re Living All Over Me, is a perfect representation of the band’s strengths. J Mascis shows why he’s one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Lou Barlow frays the edges to give their sound some needed grime, and Murph—the linchpin of the band—keeps the two in check with perfect drumming. If you need to understand Dinosaur Jr. for all their highs and lows, You’re Living All Over Me is the band’s thesis.
Mascis is the band’s super-ego, with his reserved demeanor yet obvious brilliance and deep emotional core that he only lets shine through his music. Barlow is the band’s id as he strives to add rawness and grit to Mascis’ stoicism. Murph is the ego as he balances the two, never letting one get too much control.
During their set at the Sinclair, it looked as though both nothing and everything had changed in the 30 years they’ve been together. There were no hints of below-the-surface resentment or anger. Barlow’s anti-Mascis missive “The Freed Pig” is now just a faint memory. The two have long since buried the hatchet, but it’s entirely clear that these are two incredibly talented people who can only maintain a working relationship and not a friendship.
Mascis is famously reserved and that doesn’t change when he’s on stage. You could have counted the words he said on one hand and had fingers left over. Barlow made a few overtures toward the crowd but in the end, Dinosaur Jr. was here for one thing only—the only reason the band has ever had to exist—to shred.
The trio came prepared to blow out as many eardrums as possible. Both Mascis and Barlow had stacks of at least 6 amps each behind them, like they were trying to build an impromptu Wall of Sound. Murph’s drumkit was placed between the two rather than the typical rear positioning for a drummer. Whether this was designed to provide more sound or to literally keep him between Mascis and Barlow is open to interpretation.
The set was career-spanning and included greatest hits, deep cuts, covers, and a couple of tracks from last year’s great Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. The decades of partnership and the traits of each member shined through the brightest. If an audience member had never heard of the band they could have gleaned the personalities and history of the band just from the performances.
Mascis was practically entombed by his amps, barely moving around the stage, and most impressively, not breaking a sweat while he laid down devastating solo after solo. “Start Choppin’” was a clinic of guitar work and Mascis’s pulse probably registered the same as if he were reading a particularly dull book.
On the other side of the stage, Barlow thrashed his bass and looked like he was beating at the walls of a cage to break free. His long hair and beard covered his face and he was barely visible, but he made his stage presence known as he throttled his instrument.
In the end, Dinosaur Jr. are a product of their environment. They are New England writ large. Outwardly they are the ideal picture of professionalism and sustained success. But their past includes plenty of turmoil and issues that simmered too long before spilling over. They are human nature in a band: messy, brilliant, and trying to keep it all together. Their set at the Sinclair was a homecoming with no emotional fanfare, but it doesn’t change the fact that they’re the greatest band Massachusetts has ever produced.