Photographs and Review by John Bentley

Dinosaur Jr

US alternative rock band Dinosaur Jr are back, with their original and definitive line-up, for a sell-out UK tour and I’m lucky enough to catch them in Manchester tonight. It’s heartening that so many veteran bands are making better than ever come-backs these days and tonight’s gig shows this really is the case with Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr’s classic albums were made in the 1980s and 90s, particularly ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ (1987) and ‘Bug’ (1988). The first three albums featured band leader and guitarist J Mascis, with Lou Barlow on bass and Murph on drums. Tracks like the catchy fast-rocking ‘Freak Scene’ from ‘Bug’, which I first heard on DJ John Peel’s 1988 Festive Fifty (year best-of), defined the best of Dinosaur Jr, and it features in the set tonight. There are a lot of different influences in their music, from classic rock to hardcore punk. Mascis’s electric guitar style owes something to Neil Young and his vocals are also distinctive, a whiny nasal drawl with a certain laid-back yearning. Dinosaur Jr make a lot of racket, but they are essentially tuneful and their sound is unmistakable.

Dinosaur Jr

Bad relations in the band led to Mascis sacking Lou Barlow after ‘Bug’. Barlow then formed the brilliant and underrated low-fi rock band Sebadoh and one of his first new songs was ‘The Freed Pig’, on which he vented his feelings about Mascis. Drummer Murph also quit Dinosaur Jr two albums later. However, after all the feuding, the original three members reunited in 2005 and have since produced three very well received new albums, the latest being 2012’s ‘I Bet on The Sky’, which is featured heavily tonight.

Dinosaur Jr

The stage is packed tightly with equipment, so the band members stand close to the audience. There are two large walls of Marshall speakers at the back and we know it is going to be very loud. Murph’s drums are set forward in the centre of the stage and the set-up gives prominence to all three members. Mascis is instantly very distinctive in appearance, with long wispy wizard-like white hair, and he looks very much the veteran guitar hero. Murph, on the other hand looks like a pretty ordinary middle-aged guy, although his very solid drumming is far from ordinary. Lou Barlow currently sports a massive mop of hair, an overgrown beard and a large pair of specs that together conceal most of his face. He looks a bit of a wild man.

Dinosaur Jr

The band’s playing tonight is brilliant. Mascis’s guitar really has to be heard and, with the range of sounds he gets from it, he’s like a one man orchestra. Somehow he and the band successfully meld 1970s epic rock guitar with the directness of punk, and noise and melody fuse together perfectly in the music. Particularly enjoyable is the guitar playing on the cover of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’, sounding like a shimmering violin at one point. Lou Barlow headbangs and gyrates around the stage throughout the set and seems determined to beat Peter Hook in the competition for who can have the lowest slung bass in live rock performance. On top of his chunky, solid bass-playing, he also sings on three numbers, including ‘Rude’, his own composition from the latest album. On ‘Gargoyle’ he shares vocals with Mascis, which works really well. Meanwhile Murph seems physically restrained behind the drums, but his contribution to the sound is essential. It’s great to see the three of them playing together again tonight and so obviously enjoying it, having long buried the hatchets that originally split them up.

Dinosaur Jr

I start off tonight in the photographers’ pit by the stage, where ear plugs are a definite bonus to avoid hearing impediment. At the front it is a little difficult to make out the songs amid the din, but after photographing the permitted first three numbers I head upstairs in the venue. A central position on The Ritz balcony seems to be the best position to get a balanced sound and full appreciation of the music and it does really sound better up there, apart from having to put-up with the distracting people who insist on talking throughout the gig.

Dinosaur Jr

The setlists on the current tour feature a range of songs from across Dinosaur Jr’s recording career. Certain tracks like ‘Sludgefeast’ feature at most of their gigs, but they also try out several different songs night by night. I am surprised that there are no songs tonight from the excellent 2009 album ‘Farm’. However, there are plenty of good selections from their other albums, particularly from ‘You’re Living All Over Me’. The earlier albums had a more basic sound, while the more recent material is more sophisticated. ‘Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know’, from the latest album, even features a prog-ish mellotron, although when played tonight, the track is reduced to a more simple form without the keyboard instrument. Anyway, it all seems to work well when played live.

Dinosaur Jr setlist (hopefully correct, but different from the list the roadies taped on the stage!): Thumb; See It On Your Side; The Lung; The Wagon; Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know; Watch the Corners; Crumble; Rude; Training Ground; Start Choppin’; Out There; Feel the Pain; Freak Scene; Gargoyle. Encore: Just Like Heaven; Sludgefeast.

Little Barrie

Support band tonight is Little Barrie, a guitar, bass and drums trio, who’ve been around for a few years and have been involved in an impressive list of collaborations with other artists, including Edwyn Collins. They are named after guitarist and frontman Barrie Cadogan and their new drummer is Virgil Howe, son of celebrated Yes guitarist, Steve Howe. Interesting, as I recently saw another Yes member’s son, Oliver Wakeman, playing with the Strawbs! They perform a good energetic set and rightly go down a storm with the audience. Drummer Howe, who with his long hair and beard resembles seventeenth century monarch Charles II, breaks the bass drum pedal in the process. Barrie himself plays fast blues-inspired guitar and seems to be heavily inspired by bands and guitarists of the 1960s and 70s. His bright red trousers reinforce this period link. As they leave the stage, the penny drops in my head that the fast rocking closing number is very similar in style to the dynamic well-known performance of Ten Years After (‘I’m Going Home’) in the 1969 concert film ‘Woodstock’.

One Response to “Dinosaur Jr + Little Barrie at the HMV Ritz, Manchester, UK – 1st February 2013”

  1. Gig Reviews | Gig Photography | Interviews | Competitions from Gig Junkies » Blog Archive » Sebadoh + Polterghost at the Academy, Manchester, UK – 15th October 2013 Says:

    […] and competitiveness, Barlow and Mascis are pals again, and Lou’s been playing bass once more with Dinosaur Jr on their recent tour. He seems to have really enjoyed gigging with Mascis and this may have made him want to get Sebadoh […]

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