Freak Scene Revisited

Last year's return of Dinosaur Jr.'s classic lineup was one of the least expected reunions since John Lydon reanimated the Sex Pistols. After hitting bandmate Lou Barlow with a guitar as a prelude to dumping his ass in the late '80s, temperamental frontman J. Mascis (sometimes with drummer Murph) carried on Dino for nearly a decade before embarking on an acclaimed solo career, one that featured folks--like Minuteman Mike Watt--that Mascis actually liked playing with.

Barlow managed quite well on his own, finding accolades and hits (Folk Implosion's "Natural One") without the hassles of Mascis' legendary anal-retentive control. So why get back together? Dinosaur Jr.'s sloppy, noisy alt-punk has influenced countless lesser bands, and Mascis' instrumental dexterity was anomalous in its heyday, but like the recently reunited Pixies, one had to ask whether anything was left unsaid. Was there a need for quick cash? Was this a final moment in the punk-rock sun? Repeated calls to the band, currently touring New Zealand, were unsuccessful in answering such questions.

Initial reunion reactions have been mixed; Mascis' variety of ailments have resulted in short set lists, but recent performances have been the kind of distorted noise fests that won hearts before Nirvana made such incoherence financially viable. Although the band has scoffed at recording new material, the reunion and tour have coincided with the re-release of the first three Dinosaur Jr. recordings. The trio's original efforts still sound startlingly fresh; punk not only played as pop (and vice versa) but songs, like the classic anti-poseur rant "Freak Scene," overloaded with hooks and volume and topped with Mascis' ever-present sneering whine.

Whether in their original incarnation or serving as J. Mascis' solo project, Dinosaur Jr. were, and now once again are, innovators at a time when so many punk and emo bands lack vision, edge and substance. At middle age, Mascis, Barlow and Murph have become the graying, slightly pudgy, elder statesmen of alternative rock, but who can deny them--or, for that matter, us--a brief recounting of their best years, a chance to revel in their once glorious noise?

 
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