Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dinosaur Jr., Awesome Color, Grand Champeen - Emo's - Austin, TX - Dec. 7th, 2007

Let me preface this by saying that the original line-up of Dinosaur Jr. is one of my top 5 bands of all time. The eponomously titled first album, "You're Living All Over Me", and "Bug" are damn near perfect records. The real reasons J.Mascis broke up one of the most powerful rhythm sections (Lou Barlow on bass and Murph Murphy on drums) will forever remain between the three of them, but it was a bad play up there with the worst of them. Some would argue that it worked out well - J.Mascis became a huge alternative rock star, Barlow got Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, and Murph moved on to The Lemonheads. Well: post-"Bug" Dinosaur Jr. sucked. Big time. Those two J.Mascis and The Fog records are alright, but still not his best work. While I like a lot of Folk Implosion stuff Barlow's nearer and dearer project Sebadoh bored the shit out of me. Their records grated on me. I walked out of at least three Sebadoh shows unable to stomach the self-indulgent and self-reflexive "weirdness" being presented. Murph joined The Lemonheads - a band that hadn't made a good record since "Hate Your Friends". At least he was drawing a paycheck.

I wept with joy when I found out the original Dinosaur Jr. line-up was touring together again after 19 years, although I had reservations. I chewed my fingernails to the quick worrying that the new record would be a terrible let down. I was certain that they would be disengaged and boring live - in it for the money. Neither is true - "Beyond" picks up where "Bug" left off and totally kicks ass. I've seen them twice now and have been as blown away as I ever was in the old days. At long last, on to the review.

Grand Champeen is one of Austin's best live bands. They are always tight as shit and play with over the top energy. They didn't disappoint and seemed to even kick it up a notch for the whole "opening for a legend" thing. Champeen sounds a lot like Soul Asylum would have if Soul Asylum had been any good (yes, I've heard the pre-"Gravedancer's Union" stuff. Doesn't do it for me like The Replacements or Husker Du. Sorry Minneapolites - I know I just made enemies of you all). Champeen's weakness is that, with all their cool tempo changes and jagged start/stops, the songs start running together after a while. I've never left a Champeen show thinking, "Wow - that one song is really stuck in my head". A lot of people disagree with me and it's very possible I'm just missing something. I'll keep going to see them. A live performance like theirs more than makes up for a minor weakness that I might be totally wrong about. They were the perfect opener for this bill and I couldn't be happier for them that they got the opportunity.

I knew absolutely nothing about Awesome Color going in. I was interested to see them solely on the grounds that they were touring with Dinosaur Jr. Must be pretty good, right? Whatever it was they were doing it didn't float my boat. Although thoroughly competent music-wise they didn't really seem to know what they wanted to be. If their songs had hooks or, for that matter, were in any way memorable I could have overlooked this. None of my bands have ever known what we wanted to be. I watched for three or so songs, then went outside and sat down where I could listen. Everything sounded the same. The last song they played developed a pretty cool groove but it wasn't nearly enough to save the set. I've read articles since calling them "psychedelic" and comparing them to The Stooges (never mind that The Stooges weren't psychedelic). I beg to differ - they weren't psychedelic and they certainly didn't compare favorably with The Stooges. Sorry Awesome Color. Maybe I should check out your records and listen for what I'm missing.

The main event - Dinosaur Jr. Lou Barlow looked like he had just woken up and there seemed to be some tension crackling across stage between him and J.Mascis. Always endearingly unprofessional on stage, Mascis indulged in his typically lengthy on stage tuning. This seemed to annoy Lou more than anything else. Every time Lou tried to say something to the crowd J. would interrupt with loud guitar noodling. Recipe for disaster, you might think. Nope. From the opening chords of "Freak Scene" which kicked things off these guys kicked ass eight ways to Sunday. They drew liberally from their back catalog, high points being "Repulsion", "Bulbs of Passion" and "In a Jar" among many others. They played most of "Beyond" as well. Noticeably missing were "Forget the Swan" from the first record and "Back to your Heart" (hands down the best track on "Beyond"), both Barlow's. One or both may have been dropped from the set due to what happened after "Lightning Bug", Barlow's other cut on "Beyond". A group of five or six weak idiots started booing Lou, apparently still being caught up in the Mascis/Barlow conflict that is now seemingly resolved. Lou visibly rolled his eyes and pretty much looked at the ground for the rest of the set. The only other down point was Mascis' extended, masturbatory guitar solo at the end of the first set. I know that this why a lot of people revere him, but I'm a song guy and this ten minute long exercise in self-gratification annoyed the shit out of me. To be fair, though, the crowd loved it. In spite of the tension and the idiots in the crowd Dinosaur Jr. put on an outstanding and memorable show. If I was blown away back in the 80's, I was doubly so this time. Maybe because watching these three guys my age put on an intense, high energy show was inspiring at the least.

A word about Emo's in Austin - the sight lines suck, the outdoor area is poorly designed in the extreme with the floor rising and falling in various places, many audio dead spots in which the otherwise excellent sound system sounds awful, and very poor consideration given to moving large numbers of people in and out. It gets packed like a sardine can and you can forget about going to get a beer or taking a restroom break unless you're willing to spend a ridiculous amount of time doing it. This was the case for the first half of Dinosaur Jr.'s set. Thankfully they played "Feel the Pain" at the halfway mark (the only song that appeared on a non-Barlow/Murph record) and fully a third of the crowd, satisfied at hearing "the hit", left. This made it a lot easier to breathe and, since it was only hardcore Dinosaur Jr. fans remaining, enjoy the show.

Overall, this show was well worth the $20.00 ticket price. Hopefully the onstage tension was temporary and not indicative of a looming second break up. This isn't a band having a reunion. This is a band having an amazing comeback and they're at the top of their game. As long as these three guys stick together I'll keep buying the records and seeing the shows.

Rating: 4 out of 4

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