Concert Review: Dinosaur Jr. & Screaming Females at Music Hall of Williamsburg: May 28, 2014
This is “What’s Making Me Happy This Week,” a weekly feature inspired by the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
What’s Making Me Happy This Week is sludgy fuzzy music, wah-wah pedals, guitar solos and ear-splitting noise. In other words, the Dinosaur Jr. Converse Rubber Tracks concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, with support from Dinosaur Females, I mean Screaming Females.
I missed opening band Creepoid and arrived midway through the Screaming Females set (missing set opener – my former Shriek of the Week “Expire”), which at 10 songs was pretty long for an opening band. For those unfamiliar with Screaming Females, you should know that there could not be a more appropriate band to support Dinosaur Jr. The two power trios have been compared often, with Marissa Paternoster‘s (vocals and guitar) guitar shredding very favorably compared to Mascis’. I don’t normally copy entirely from another review, but I think at Caroline Harrison at BrooklynVegan said it better than I ever could:
If you’ve never seen Screaming Females play live, you should fix that (in fact, they just released a live album, which I guess is the next best thing). The trio transforms from unassuming everymen to banshee-wailing, grinning, grooving rock gods the second they play their first note. And the energy is infectious–bassist “King” Mike barely stops grinning or jumping, and guitarist/vocalist Marissa Paternoster throws her whole body into howling and shredding. Given Paternoster’s audible J. Mascis influence, Screaming Females are a natural choice to open for Dinosaur Jr–and this was not the first time the band had taken on that supporting role. (Not even the first time at that venue.)
One small point I’d make is that Paternoster isn’t an unassuming everyman – she’s downright sweet and girly. To hear her talk in a quiet voice and greet her friends and fans after the show, you’d never believe that she was the one wailing on stage moments before. And boy does she wail. Screaming Females’ music sounds like the soundtrack to a a Disney movie gone horribly horribly wrong. The word I keep coming back to is “evil.” The first song I caught was the emphatic and tense-ridden “I Don’t Mind It“, my favorite track off of 2010’s Castle Talk. the sound was so loud, so all-encompassing, that I found myself wondering whether Screaming Females were plugged into all of Dinosaur Jr.’s many amps. (Answer: No way. As I’d find out when comparing the decibel-levels later.) Still, the assault of guitars and bass and vocals all swirling into a mass of hysteria and gloom was well underway, and it continued through all the way until the end. The crowd that had presumably come to see Dinosaur Jr. was packed all the way to the back of the room for Screaming Females and cheered loudly for every song. The highlight of the half-set that I saw was the penultimate song, “Doom 84” (from 2012’s Ugly.) Already a long song on the LP at 7:38, on this night it seemed to exceed 10 minutes and only got better as it went along. Rarely do I enjoy sitting through one extended song with many solos at the tail end of a concert (I certainly don’t enjoy hearing it as much as band’s enjoy doing it), but this was perfect. The – here it is again – evilness of the sound upon itself until as a listener I was completely awash in Screaming Females. One year to the day after I saw this band live for the first time, I repeat Harrison’s words: If you’ve never seen Screaming Females play live, you should fix that.
Honestly, this is a case where the pictures probably tell a better story than I just did. Photos from the show (also from Harrison) can be seen here. Click there and just take a look at how this girl from Jersey shreds and wails.
As for Dinosaur Jr., let’s dispense with the obvious – they were LOUD. By my count there were seven stacks of amps on stage, all for the medium sized MHoW. I made the bold and irresponsible decision to go sans earplugs and, as you might imagine, I can still hear the concert buzzing in my ears. And not much else! If I had to do it all again though I would do it exactly the same.
Dinosaur Jr. isn’t the greatest band of all time, or even of their genre and era. I happen to like them a lot but even I would put them a notch below contemporaries Sonic Youth or Pixies. Those bands were arguably more adventurous with their sound, more influential and more intellectual. That said, Dinosaur Jr. knows what it does well and has been perfecting that for over 25 years. No other band plays super-loud fuzzy guitar rock like Dinosaur Jr. Early on bassist Lou Barlow told the crowd that this was the group’s first show in six months. It didn’t matter one bit. You get the sense that you could wake Mascis, Barlow and Murph out of a 1-year slumber, give them some equipment and a shitload of amps and they’d bang out the perfect rock show. Remember this sentence? “The trio transforms from unassuming everymen to banshee-wailing, grinning, grooving rock gods the second they play their first note.” Harrison said it about Screaming Females, but I think it applies equally to Dinosaur Jr.
With so many great songs in their catalog to choose from, it’s hard for Dinosaur Jr. to put together a set list that would please everyone. Some great songs that I would have loved to hear were naturally left off, such as “Repulsion”, “Little Fury Things” (my Shriek of the Week from two days ago), and their cover of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”. On the other hand, because they have so many great songs, there’s was never a dull moment during the 1+ hour set. It’s a testament to quality of the band’s more recent output – especially 2009’s Farm and 2012’s I Bet On Sky – that Dinosaur Jr. can mix in newer songs with the older classics and get an equally warm reception to everything.
If the word to describe Screaming Females’ live sound is “evil,” then the one word to describe Dinosaur Jr.’s is “blistering.” From the first note of the first song – “Bulbs of Passion” (a rare B-side) – until the last song of the main set – “Gargoyle” – the band put on a sonic assault unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. In the tight space of MHoW there was no escaping the sheer raw power of the music. At no point did Dinosaur Jr. let up. “Feel the Pain” – a radio-friendly mid-’90s hit – was played at a tempo that destroyed any possibility of even slight relaxation by the audience. The Dinosaur Jr. live experience is so different than any other – and so different than listening to them recorded. The penultimate song – “Freak Scene” – probably should have been the show’s highlight, and it revved up the crowd to new levels, but it was Barlow that actually stole the show on the closer, Gargoyle. On the band’s debut, Dinosaur, Gargoyle can be a forgotten track, bass-heavy, only slightly over two minutes long, lead vocals by Barlow instead of Mascis. Live, Barlow does a masterful job on vocals (I believe one of only two songs on this night where he sang lead), and as he traditionally does he thrashes all over his area of the stage. But instead of lasting for two minutes, the song goes on longer. And longer. And longer still as Barlow’s bass completely dominates – as close to a solo as Dinosaur Jr. will allow – and as he slashes at his instrument he falls to the ground, writhing and playing, a Hendrix on bass. The only thing better than the sight was the sound. It was the finest example of how Dinosaur Jr. fans love the rare tracks as much as the hits.(So much so that when they came out for an encore of “Sludgefeast” it was almost anti-climactic.)
Such an amazing show. A perfect pairing of guitar rock trios. And FREE thanks to Converse!
And That’s What’s Making Me Happy This Week.