By Sebastian Gonzalez
Watching Dinosaur Jr. perform has always been at the top of my list of must-see live
acts, so when it was announced that the band would be playing the legendary venue The Fillmore in San Francisco for two nights in a row, I knew I had to be there.
I first discovered Dinosaur Jr. a few years ago, after clicking on a Youtube video of their song, “Just Like Heaven” and mistakenly assuming it would be a performance of The Cure. It turned out to be a cover of The Cure’s 1987 hit, performed live and on-air on KEXP, Seattle’s famous alternative/indie-rock public radio station. Listening to the first few seconds of Lou Barlow’s punchy and distorted bass tone and the subsequent wall of grainy guitar fuzz that emanated from J. Mascis’ amplifiers were all I needed to decide that I must see them live. Rushing from my Wednesday afternoon classes to my car and braving the after-work traffic rush resulted in me arriving late to the opening act of the Pink Mountaintops, but I still managed to catch their last few songs before Dinosaur Jr. began. Pushing myself up to the front of the eager crowd, I observed the quintessential gray-haired dad rockers, young-adult/teen music hipsters, and even small children around me, all waiting with excitement for Dinosaur Jr. to begin their set. The moment the band stepped onstage, cheers and whistling erupted from the crowd, everyone with smiles on their faces waiting to rock out. These cheers were completely and utterly drowned out by the first few notes of J. Mascis’ guitar as the band launched into gear. They played many fan-favorite songs off their two classic albums, 1987’s Bug and 1988’s You’re Living All Over Me, and even introduced a few new songs into the setlist, playing all with the same high-intensity energy for two hours straight. I was bummed to hear that longtime bassist Lou Barlow was unable to perform due to COVID (wishing you a speedy recovery Lou!), but the replacement bassist locked in soundly with Murph’s powerful drumming, creating a solid rhythmic pocket for Mascis to subsequently launch his famous improvised solos from.
Even having listened to them for years and watching them live at that moment, it was hard to believe that only three individuals could create such a crushing sonic wall of pure rock and roll. Being a bassist myself, one thing I’ve always appreciated about Dinosaur Jr. was how much low-end sonic space existed solely for the bass guitar, even on the older records with lesser production quality compared to the newer records. But that’s part of Dinosaur Jr’s style and charm, everything distorted, ever-so slightly muddied, and loud… really, really loud. Not having experienced Dinosaur Jr. in a live setting, I was completely impressed with how well their distinct musical style (perfectly captured by their records) translated to a live setting. The show ultimately surpassed my expectations, and left me driving back to Santa Cruz with ringing ears, a smile on my face, and a fuzzy warmth in my heart.