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In the Bleak Midwinter: Dinosaur Jr, Live

Posted by October 12th, 2012 No Comments »

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Dinosaur Jr. at the Neptune Theater
October 12, 2012
By Chris McCann 

The first and only time I saw Dinosaur Jr., I drove down from Connecticut to Trenton, New Jersey, on a frigid February afternoon. It was dark by 3 p.m. and the sludgy skies spat ice and dirty snow in great globs that overwhelmed my windshield wipers. I remember stopping for Sbarro at a Turnpike rest stop before pulling into a city as dark and cold as any I can remember.

Inside City Gardens, great stacks of speakers towered over the stage. A band I’d never heard of — My Bloody Valentine — were just finishing in a great cacophonic meltdown that threatened to cause the scrum of boys windmilling in the center of the pit to combust. In the almost-visible reverberations left by the sudden silence, I wandered forward, staking out a place underneath the black tower on the left side of the stage.

I didn’t know much about Dinosaur Jr., only that they were supposed to be one of the loudest bands in the world. I was looking for something to drown out the throbbing chorus of despair common to late adolescence, and was hoping this would do the trick. When the lights went down, a couple of guys shambled out onto the stage, didn’t say a word, and began to play with a hypnotic blend of fury and hopelessness — as though they were defending a trench in the Battle of the Somme.

I pulled the earplugs out of my ears and curled closer into the speakers, letting the great waves of sound wash over me, feeling the thud of each plucked string resonate in my stomach, my intestines. As they ground through “Just Like Heaven” in a paroxysm of despair Robert Smith could only hope to approximate on his darkest day, I found myself pressed against the lowermost speaker in the stack, daring the music to overwhelm me. I stayed like that the rest of the show.


About 36 hours later, I could almost hear again. And though the day was even darker, the snow dirtier, the icy air more difficult to breathe — I felt somehow lighter. The show had broken me in all the good ways that music can. And now I was free to start again. It was an intimation of the turning of the season. Spring was coming.

Twenty years later, I’m going to see Dinosaur Jr. again. After an eight-year hiatus, J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph have reunited to record three very good albums. They sound a bit like they always did, although without the underlying tensions and rancor that distorted the relationship between Mascis and Barlow decades ago. On the just-released I Bet on Sky, there’s even a little bounce to their step, a — dare I say it? — hopefulness about the future.

Twenty years is a long time, and what felt like catharsis at nineteen I now remember more as just one hell of a night. Still, it seems shortsighted to dismiss the possibility of transcendence, again, even at this late hour. After all, isn’t that why we go to shows? Why we leave the house at all?

In the poem by Christina Rossetti, which gives this piece its title, the poet asks the question “What can I give him, poor as I am?” It’s something I wonder about. What can we give the bands that afford us those ecstatic moments of transcendence apart from the few bucks we offer as the price of admission? The answer, I think, comes in the last line of the poem: “Give him my heart.”

So that’s what we do. We buy tickets and we go into the darkness, make our way down to the front, where the speakers are. Take out the earplugs, press hard against the Marshall stack, and, if for only a moment, give ourselves completely away.

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