Fiddlers, Bristol | February 3rd
Amidst the alluring stonework of the slightly out-of-the-way Fiddlers, the underwhelming blues rock noodlings of opening act Little Barrie does little to distract us from what we’re here for. This is a positively intimate show for a band of such significance. And make no mistake: Dinosaur Jr. in Bristol is a big deal.
Admittedly, the set peters into life. There’s a noticeable lack of fanfare welcoming the opening peals of the mid-paced See It On Your Side, which in turn sees Lou Barlow’s thick, robust bass chords cut out completely due to the faltering of one of the several Marshall bass heads on stage. Of course, technical issues are a lot easier to overcome when J.Mascis’s constantly fascinating guitar keeps your eyes off panicking roadies. His hyperactive fretwork fills each gap with searing, whammy-heavy licks.
While, of course, J.’s physical distance from his bandmates is logistical – when you’re surrounded by the most audacious assemblage of Marshall stacks this side of a Justice concert, the others are kind of obliged to squeeze onto the other side of the stage – the emotional distance is equally, unavoidably palpable. With knowledge of context, the lack of eye contact or any kind of interaction between the band’s dual leaders is to be expected, but it doesn’t stop the onstage dynamic from feeling, at times, a little uncomfortable. Barlow and drummer Murph, whose powerful hi-hat work provides ample distraction from the bright blue McKenzie shorts and sports socks pulled halfway up his shins, forge a watertight, pounding bottom end, while Mascis plays as almost a law unto himself.
It’s also clearly noticeable how material from brilliant latest offering I Bet On Sky pops with a rejuvenation and energy lacking from certain points, namely Freak Scene, which after the immediate surge of elation which greets it, degenerates into a somewhat uninspired runthrough. The early double-header of Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know and Watch The Corner stands out, while the Husker Dü-esque stomp of the Barlow-fronted Rude is stunning, heralding a mid-set change of pace, as well as welcoming the charismatic Barlow to provide the audience with the tonic of some much needed communication. That said, extensively dipping into the past – back as far, in fact, as a runthrough of Training Ground by Lou and J.’s first band together, hardcore pests Deep Wound – as well as classics such as Start Choppin’ and In a Jar, provides a massive pay-off. Following their cover of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, Dinosaur Jr close with Sludgefeast, and the juggernaught riff is an invigorating climax, leaving an unmistakeable air that even if the original three can never truly kiss and make up, right now they’re doing exactly what they were always meant to.
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Words: Geraint Davies
Photo: Betsy Flanagan