Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Freak Scene

Fuji Rock 2009
Dinosaur Jr (Rock)

Is it really twenty-odd years since I used to drive out to Isla Vista, California to pick up the latest Dinosaur Jr releases? Since I first saw them live when they played the tiny pizza parlor next to Morninglory Records?

Twenty years since I was working construction and rocking out to Husker Du, Soul Asylum, Big Black and other avatars of the pre-grunge scene?

It is, you know. And before Fuji Rock, I'd almost forgotten how heavily I was into hardcore in those days.

As I drove around in my beat-up Ford Granada, Dinosaur Jr's early classics - Little Fury Things, The Lung, Tarpit, Freak Scene - kept me rocking through Cali.

The band were a fantastic, unlikely combination of Crazy Horse, Black Sabbath and The Replacements and they invented a new musical genre: ear-bleeding country music. Totally revamping the power-trio format, the band introduced unusual song structures, melody and extreme volume and distortion.

On the negative side they did come up with that irritating LOUD quiet LOUD technique which was done to death by every grunge groaner, from Pixies to Nirvana.

But Dinosaur Jr did it best.

J. Mascis' detached drawl communicated a bemused savant aesthetic and was an antidote to the tiresome post-punk scream.

Though his distorted, melodic guitar playing had its roots in classic rock and country it also communicated a literate punk fury. The crucial ingredient was that Mascis was a superlative player, a guitar hero for post-punks like me.

After an ugly breakup and years of separation the original band have returned - and how! - with two superb albums in Beyond (2007) and Farm (2009). Artistically - every which way, in fact - this has got to be one of the most successful comebacks in rock history.

So here they are at Fuji Rock's Red Marquee and it's a gas to see my old heroes unleashing a familiar aural assault upon thousands of unsuspecting Japanese kids. All of the classics are there - Let it Ride, Just like Heaven (best Cure cover, bar none), and most ecstatically, Repulsion - and the place is going mad.

Rose-tinted nostalgia it ain't. As ten thousand Japanese kids will tell ya, this is fresh, vital and totally cool. What they got here is a whole new ear-splitting FREAK SCENE going on.

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