Dinosaur Jr., Far From Extinct

By: Richard Trapunski

Dinosaur Jr., Far From Extinct
Photo: courtesy of the artist/Brantley Gutierrez
Dinosaur Jr.

January 12, 2010 – Amherst, United States

Given the inner turmoil that festered and eventually exploded during reign of Dinosaur Jr.'s original lineup of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Patrick Murphy (a.k.a "Murph"), the trio's 2005 reunion seemed to take everyone by surprise, even the band members themselves.

Now more than four years, two solid albums, and hundreds of concerts later, it can hardly even be considered a reunion. Not only is 2009's Farm one of the strongest, most consistent albums in the band's catalogue, but the trio's blistering, guitar-abusing live show hasn't missed a beat.

"The amazing thing is, it doesn't feel stale at all," says drummer Murph, who was with the band in their first performance in 1984. "We've been playing some of these songs for literally two decades, but it still feels super fresh."

In the time away from Dinosaur Jr, Murph joined The Lemonheads, while Lou Barlow formed Sebadoh and The Folk Implosion, each a seminal '90s band in its own right. J Mascis remained successful both with and without the Dinosaur name, but when the opportunity arose, reforming the original line-up just seemed like the right thing to do.

"I don't know what it is, but there's a certain undeniable power that the three of us have when we play together," says Murph. "I don't think any of us have ever been able to recreate that with anybody else."

More importantly, many of the deep-seated issues that originally led to the band's dispersal have become relatively stagnant.

20 years have passed since bassist Lou Barlow's infamous dismissal and 16 years since Murph's unceremonious departure, and while guitarist J Mascis continued on as the sole original member for the better part of the 1990s, between Barlow's thinly veiled lyrical insults and his often uncomfortably candid interviews, it has became increasingly evident that under Mascis' laconic veneer, he's actually quite a control freak.

"J's still a perfectionist," Murph admits. "But his margins have widened. Now instead of worrying so much about what Lou and I are doing, he's concentrating more on his own guitar playing. A lot of the energy that used to be expended on being critical of me and Lou is being used to worry about what equipment to have in his recording studio or which amps will sound best on stage. He's become a total gearhead."

Mascis still handles the bulk of the songwriting, there's a new sense of flexibility that didn't exist in the band's first run.

"It used to be like he was the teacher and I was the student, whereas now, especially live, we're all better players," says Murph. "J wrote the songs on Farm according to my abilities and Lou's abilities, so there's more room for interpretation on our parts. For example, if there's a certain drum fill or style that I pull out, if he likes it then he'll let me use it, whereas in the past he would have just been annoyed."

"We're at the point where we definitely have been through the mire with each other and now we really want to avoid conflict, so we've gotten better at making compromises."

Many people would want to avoid recreating a situation that carried so much tension, but Dinosaur Jr also felt a certain sense of duty to reunite. Since their inception, the band has been proving that it is possible to craft heavy, original underground rock songs with just guitar, bass, and drums. With so many modern bands indulging in gratuitous stylistic embellishments, in a way they see themselves as keepers of the old guard.

"Sometimes it blows me away to see some of these young bands who've achieved such success just by having a good manager and a style consultant," Murph complains. "Back when we were doing it, it was all about doing everything yourself, booking your own tours, buying a crappy van, and just making things happen. Yeah, there are prodigies out there, but most of the time you really have to work hard and pay your dues. People can sense when it's all just an act."

And, although the trio can rock out like they're in their twenties, time also plays a key role.

"I hate to say it, but music's kind of like sports," Murph says. "You can only tour for so long before you have to retire. We're all in our forties, so if we're going to do this, we might as well do it now, before the arthritis kicks in and we can't play anymore."

As long as they keep ripping solos, it's hard to care how old they are.

Video: "Over It" by Dinosaur Jr.

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