While the point of Dinosaur Jr. is to pummel the listener with as much feedback and distortion as possible, to eardrum-bleeding levels, Chocomel Daze (Live 1987) is a bit of a disappointment considering the middling source of the recording.
Dinosaur Jr. has had a pretty incredible run of great albums lately as a reformed entity – from 2007’s Beyond to 2009’s Farm to I Bet On Sky, released in September – that it’s almost – almost – easy to forget that they were a vital, creative entity in the mid-to-late ‘80s who was charting a path of scorched earth and stoner sludge rock cleared in part by only the likes of perhaps Sonic Youth and Hüsker Dü. However, Dinosaur Jr.’s output during that period – from 1985’s Dinosaur to 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me to 1988’s Bug – is held in high regard, so much so that to commemorate the 25th anniversary this fall of the release of You're Living All Over Me that Merge, the record label responsible for re-releasing the ‘80s run of albums in recent years, is unleashing a live set recorded in the Netherlands during the group’s tour behind that album. This may seem a little strange in a sense because this new live document, Chocomel Daze (Live 1987), actually covers material from Dinosaur in addition to You're Living All Over Me, so as a pure celebration of You're Living All Over Me’s release, it’s a little suspect. However, this also means, given the date of the recording, that there’s nothing from Bug. (Sorry fans, though you might want to check out Bug: Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, June 2011, released earlier this year, instead, on that front.) And while the point of Dinosaur Jr. is to pummel the listener at eardrum-bleeding levels, Chocomel Daze (Live 1987) is a bit of a disappointment considering the sometimes terrible source of the recording.
The disc sounds like it was sourced from a soundboard tape, but a poor one at that, and I wouldn't be surprised if this was all captured by a guy in the audience holding a toy microphone over his head. It, at times, sounds that bad and bootleg-like. Therefore, if you don’t mind hearing audio glitches, and J Mascis’ voice (and, sometimes, bassist Lou Barlow’s) struggling to be heard at times through the mix, then this is the album for you. Chocomel Daze (Live 1987) also offers very little in the way of interesting stage banter – the band more or less plows from song to song with only the odd bit of guitar noodling and tuning here and there – so, as a document of how the band interacted with each other during this time, the album kind of falls down a bit. The album could have stood a little bit of editing to prune some of the tune-ups, though given the source quality perhaps that would have been impossible without it being noticeable. All in all, Chocomel Daze (Live 1987) is best suited to the longtime fan who doesn’t mind hearing a few less than perfectly captured songs. All others might want to either go out and buy, or caress the copies of, the original studio recordings this material hails from, holding that material close to their chest instead.
That said, Chocomel Daze (Live 1987) is interesting in noting how much of a force the band was during its initial run: how they could turn a crowd of seemingly disinterested audience members (you can, indeed, hear crowd chatter early on in this recording) into a throng of true believers, hooting and hollering after the culmination of each song. Despite the muddy quality of the recording, the holocaust of Mascis’ guitars, the thudding of Barlow’s low-end bass, and the totemic skin pounding of Murph’s drums sometimes cuts through like a blunt blade, revealing the band to be a primo powerful force in the live setting, even miles from home on foreign European territory. However, the recording does get off on the wrong foot. Opening song “Severed Lips” starts out fuzzy and distorted, a sheet of white noise as though someone forgot to insert a jack into the tape recorder all the way through, for the duration of the (literally) first minute of its seven-minute run. When the audio quality improves, it does so a bit noticeably (which is just as jarring, granted), revealing a band that was comfortable playing at a quieter dynamic. There’s a mid-section break that even sounds downright bluesy, and while J Mascis is generally regarded as a Neil Young devotee for his non-Barlow run of albums during the ‘90s under the Dino band moniker, the influence is steeped and in evidence here. In fact, while the band sounds loose and comfortable, as throughout portions the recording, there’s still a sense of tightness, of an unwavering ability to get too far afield of themselves.
And, of course, anyone coming to this album looking for guitar histrionics is not going to be disappointed. The last minute of “Does It Float” has a particular bite to it, and feels a bit reminiscent of Barlow’s own workout later with Sebadoh for “Gimme Indie Rock”. There’s the fake, strummed intro to “Lose”, before it erupts in a volcanic explosion of thick guitars. “Gargoyle” rides the effects pedals to create a psychedelic freak out effect. And, of course, there’s the monumental “SludgeFeast”, where you can hear the debt to Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. But there are moments where the recording is a downer, too. You can barely hear Mascis’s singing over the din during the verses of “Repulsion”, though the song is interesting for dropping the guitars and bass in its middle, leaving Mascis bare with only Murph providing anything in the way of a direction through the morass. Inaudibility is true of “Gargoyle”, too, where the vocals sound particularly washed out. The lack of clarity in the mix is evident, in addition, on “Raisans”, which sounds like a sonic stew where the guitars are probably pushed up too high in the mix, making the bass all the more noticeably missing. If anything, Chocomel Daze (Live 1987) tends to ride the treble a little too frequently. However, that’s probably a given, given the nature of the source of the recording.
It’s a little too bad that the band seemingly didn’t have a better document in the vaults to unleash upon fans, but the band appears to condone this particular release, crappy quality and all, because they seem to be fondly nostalgic about this particular European tour. In the pithy press materials that come with the album, all two short paragraphs of it, Mascis reminisces, “We were young on our first Euro tour. It was amazing to get hotels and food. We were treated a million times better than we were used to in the States. And only driving like 45 minutes a day to the next Dutch town. Good times.” It certainly sounds like the band is having a pretty good time, before the infighting set in that lead to Barlow’s initial leave, but, alas, you have to wade through some pretty grubby and grungy material in order to hear that. Chocomel Daze (Live 1987) at least gets the title right: there’s plenty of chocomel and plenty of daze – it's just that it's all filtered through a pretty dodgy sounding recording that does no favours to a band’s ‘80s legacy that demands to be memorialized in a much better way.