June 23 at NYC’s
Terminal 5, J, Lou and Murph finally do the ’88 classic justice.
By Brian Bowe
Back in 2007, when Dinosaur Jr. released its first reunion
record, Beyond, I conducted an
interview with bassist Lou Barlow in which we chatted about the band’s oeuvre –
and in particular, 1988’s Bug, which
has long been my own favorite Dino record.
Barlow disagreed with my assessment, suggesting that the
album was marred by a combination of festering tensions within the band and the
fact that he and drummer Murph had insufficient time to fully grok the material
singer/guitarist J Mascis was writing. (In a recent interview with Spinner,
Mascis expressed similar sentiments.)
“Bug to me is
clouded by the vibe of that time,” Barlow said in 2007. “But then when I go
back and listen to it, I’m like ‘Jesus, there’s epic songs on that record.’ The
shifts the songs go through and the quality of the sound is pretty
At the time, I thought Barlow was being too harsh in his
assessment. But after hearing Dinosaur Jr. play it from front-to-back at Manhattan’s Terminal 5 on
part of a six-date mini-tour, I’ve come to realize that he may have been right.
In that live setting, the trio showed that it has reached the level of
technical prowess and emotional maturity that those songs require, and the
result was astonishing. From the anthemic album opener “Freak Scene,” the band
dug deep into those songs and delivered renditions that showcased the intensity
to which Barlow was referring. The power of Bug resides in the way the songs contain equal parts beauty and bombast to offer an
impressionistic portrait of Mascis’ plaintive drawlings on love, friendship,
frustration and heartbreak. Live, they got that balance just right.
At Terminal 5, Dinosaur Jr. seemed like a band perfectly in
sync. Mascis swayed back and forth in feedback-soaked ecstasy; Barlow was
animated, turning pink-faced as he thrashed about while emphatically
strong-arming his throaty and muscular bass counterpoint. As the engine room of
the band, Murph propelled the music forward. With only a couple of exceptions,
the songs sounded better than the recorded versions.
This performance demonstrated again that now, some 27 years
after the band was founded, Dinosaur Jr. is experiencing a rich creative second
life. The last album, The Farm, was easily in the top three of
Dinosaur’s career in this writer’s estimation, and their live performance get
better and better. With that in mind, it is appropriate that they decided to
revisit Bug to realize its untapped
One exception was the performance of the album’s closing
song, the brutal “Don’t.” With a guest vocalist recruited to save Barlow’s
vocal chords, the band churned through a seemingly eternal rendition. On the
record, the song is hard to listen to, but it is a perfect sonic distillation
of the frustration of unrequited like.
In the live rendition, it seemed more like a novelty that went on too
long. But one reason why the song may have fallen flat is that the band has
resolved the question. At this point, it would be hard for them to ask the
musical question posed in the song – “Why don’t you like me?”- with a straight
Fortunately, they must know that they are liked very, very