“I’m here, like all of you, because I’m an XXL Dinosaur Jr. fan,” special guest, host and emcee Henry Rollins told fans last night as he took the stage at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. Rollins interviewed the group’s three members – J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph (Emmet Jefferson Murphy) – before the band came back to the stage 15 minutes later to play their 1988 breakthrough work, Bug, in its entirety.
In the 20-minute interview, Rollins focused on the band’s early days, touching on topics from their creative process and lean early touring days to their first attempt at writing music together – which Barlow jokingly described as “horrifying,” when asked what it sounded like.
The conversation provided a telling snapshot of the mid- to late-Eighties indie music boom, with Rollins drawing on his own memories of first hearing Bug – “I couldn’t stop playing it,” he said – and his own excitement at the limited mainstream success that began around 1987 for acts like Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr.
Barlow said he started noticing the band’s influence within a few years. “When bands like Mudhoney and the Sub Pop scene started I could see a definite influence of J’s guitar playing on them,” he said.
Rollins concurred: “I think you guys were a huge influence on the Sub Pop scene.”
Among the most humorous moments of the interview was when Rollins asked the guys about volume, a fitting question for one of the loudest live bands we’ve ever seen. Barlow recalled an early practice where Mascis played a transistor amp, because Bob Mould played one. Mascis – who was wearing earmuffs – proceeded to deafen his bandmates, sending them, according to Barlow, running through the house looking for anything to plug in their ears.
When asked if he wasn’t concerned about their hearing since he had earmuffs on, Mascsis paused for a second and said, “There was nothing stopping them from getting earplugs.”
The interview wrapped up up with Rollins asking the band about touring in 2011 and how it felt. “It’s a lot more enjoyable now,” Murphy said.
That showed onstage, as their musical harmony was impeccable throughout the hour-plus set, which opened with a few non-Bug tracks. “We thought we’d do a couple of songs first and warm up before we get into the Bug album,” Mascis told the crowd after opening with “Thumb” and “In A Jar.”
And then the main attraction, starting with the engaging “Freak Scene,” a song Rollins pointed out should have been a single if not for the “fucked” in the midst of the song. Just as it did on vinyl, the song’s easily digestible melody offered an easy lead in to the musically complex album, highlighted by tracks like “No Bones.”
Gifted musicians who can also write alterna-pop hooks with the best of them, Dinosaur Jr. combined those two skills seamlessly during the show, bringing the album to life with long jams that served the song, not “look at me” noodling. As they drew out the finale of the album’s closer, “Don’t,” into a tapestry of screaming instruments and a final fury of breakneck speed, their musicianship was worthy of every bit of Rollins’ praise.