As the stoic, though enthused, crowd waited patiently for the Massachusetts indie rock trio to take the stage, eager fans turned to one another. Some of them wondered who was at the show in Connecticut the night before when one of the amplifiers started smoking. Others simply nodded and chatted amongst themselves. It was a fitting, respectful vibe that remained steady throughout the night. Sure, some fans went crazy as “Tarpit” and “Been There All the Time” blasted across the room, but both headbanging and simple nodding could be seen all over. For the most part, the capacity crowd seemed to be in a daze similar to the silver-haired musician shredding several feet away on the tiny stage. That’s not to say every person in there was stoned, but it was certainly a possibility.
To the roar of the packed club, Dinosaur Jr. took the stage and brought on a sonic assault few bands could top. Apparently it was the first time the reunited band had played Providence, at least that was what bassist Lou Barlow and several fans said. For that reason, you can understand why, for many fans, this was more than just another show in the band’s lengthy history. Yes, it’s been several years since J. Mascis beckoned Barlow and his bass back into the fold alongside Murph on drums, but you have to understand the mindset of a Rhode Islander. If something is 20 minutes away, that’s a day-trip for most Ocean State natives. So this was, essentially, our first chance to see the near-legendary act in its proper form. And oh how proper it was. Even though the show felt like it was cut short because the venue needed to reopen its doors for all the club-goers, it was anything but fantastic.
The musical trip back to indie rock’s origins kicked off with the upbeat “In a Jar” off You’re Living All Over Me. If you weren’t prepared for the fury of noise and thudding bass engulfing the room as the song began, it’s likely a ringing sound would fill your ears for the next day or two. In other words, if you didn’t bring earplugs, you were screwed. But, as indicated earlier, this was no freshmen crowd so it’s expected that most people were ready for the amps turned all the way up to 11. Once “In a Jar” faded, Barlow and Mascis tuned their axes and the band blasted into a pair of Beyond cuts. “Been There All the Time” came up first and further pummeled us all into submission with heavy riffs. Barlow also helped out on the hook, something he did throughout the night. His more refined vocals, as most fans know, are a great complement to those of Mascis. And, perhaps appropriately, the bassist went right into the slightly mellow, almost soothing “Back to Your Heart”.
But that feeling didn’t last long. The guys blasted into another You’re Living track in “Tarpit” and the crowd was bouncing around as if it was a hip-hop show. To say it was a fan-favorite would be a vast understatement. And it drifted perfectly into Beyond’s “Crumble”, which was driven by some excellent guitar work. It was nothing compared to “Out There”, though. The Where You Been opener was gorgeously gritty, which one could say about many of Dinosaur Jr.’s best tracks. Also in line with the band’s catalog, it gave Mascis a chance to break into an epic and deafening solo, one of his best of the night. Then it was time for them to take it to another level. A slightly poppy level, to be accurate, as Barlow and Mascis belted out “Feel the Pain” off the unbalanced Without a Sound. While some diehard fans might feel slighted by the track’s arena-friendly tones, no one could deny just how great it came across in Club Hell. And it didn’t hurt that Murph was an absolute beast on the skins.
“Feel the Pain” was more than just a straightforward highlight. It was the calm before the distorted storm that was passing overhead. And that storm came right back for “Bulbs of Passion”, the almost-painfully heavy closer from the band’s self-titled debut. Barlow’s vocal chords ripped apart for the chorus and the song’s soft-to-heavy moments were breathtaking. Those moments continued across the thudding Bug and catchy burner “No Bones” followed by a personal favorite in the absolutely-perfect “The Wagon”, off Green Mind. It was then back to Bug for “Freak Scene”, on which Murph again stole the spotlight.
Murph’s madman antics also set the tone for “Forget the Swan”, another insane offering from Dinosaur. With Barlow and Mascis trading verses and singing the hook together, they were showing off more than their respective pipes. While no member was particularly talkative or chatty except for a few quips from Barlow, they all still appeared both happy and proud to be playing in Providence. Their enthusiasm was most heard in “Forget the Swan”, a tight demonstration of their hardcore roots. And it also gave way to what felt like a 10-minute guitar solo. It was a monstrous way to end the set, though of course the show wasn’t over just yet. A brief interlude was followed by another pair of cuts from You’re Living. First up was the aptly titled “Sludgefeast” that provided Mascis with more noodling time. Then, as Barlow stated, they played a track covered by the Cure. Or, more accurately, covered by Dinosaur Jr. “Just Like Heaven” was just as bizarre yet amazing as it is on the record, particularly the bassist’s growling hook. And, as on You’re Living, “Just Like Heaven” (and the show) ended abruptly.
It’s quite rare that I leave a show wanting to immediately listen to the act I just saw onstage. Typically, it leads to a few weeks of shunning. I cannot exactly pinpoint why that happens, but it has just been the norm since I began regularly attending concerts. But Dinosaur Jr.’s show was different. It was satisfying, but it left me wanting more. Yet, it was not a negative feeling. I didn’t feel cheated. I just wanted to hear more solos, more beaten-to-a-pulp drums, and more distorted bass. And while playing an album or the free 7-inch record I received at the door was enough to fill my belly, I can only hope they return to Rhode Island in the near future.