Dinosaur Jr.--"Tarpit" (mp3)
Sorry, but sometimes only blasphemy really makes the point. I've never seen a show like Dinosaur Jr. at Rhythm and Brews. I've never seen a guitarist like J. Mascis. If, in 2009, fingers on an electric guitar could send a man heavenward, then surely J. Mascis is the one who could do it, playing a non-stop swirl of notes, chords, and fills, moving effortlessly from rhythm to lead, and, most of all, playing so melodically that, if you could have actually heard what anyone was saying around you, you would have heard them gasping at the sheer beauty of each Mascis solo.
If you think about the times you have confronted beauty in your life (mostly likely in nature or in a museum), you may recall that sense of awe that leaves you unable to do much more than to nod your head, maybe smile at those around you to make sure that they are reacting the way you are reacting. Such was last night. Who knew that such beauty could exist at over 120 decibels!
Were we ever to confront the beauty of God, we would have to turn away. It would be too overwhelming. Aurally, last night was the same experience--too much for naked human ears to comprehend. Godlike? Maybe. Really, really, really fucking loud? Mos def.
If you weren't there, then all I can say is that you missed it. What a rock show! And, let's face it, how many rock shows are out there in 2009 that rock this hard and with this sophistication?
Here are the 5 keys to a Dinosaur Jr. concert that make it like no other I've seen in a long, long time:
1. Music before the show. The music before the show is louder than most live shows. The bass alone started to mess with my internal rhythms. I'm having a hard time clarifying my anticipation--there was a sense of the unexpected, even a sense of fear, or danger, but not that something bad would happen to me. On the contrary, I knew the show would be good. The fear was more of a fear of inadequate preparation: was I ready for what I was about to experience? Dinosaur Jr. would be a no-brainer for a 20-year-old, but when you're almost 52, it's a little scary to return to something that overwhelms your senses that completely. You want to thrive; you want to survive. It reminds a little bit of that theme park ride that your child loves so you ride it with her, and when you get off, your brain's sense of balance is so scrambled you can't walk straight.
2. Earplugs. If you didn't have them, you probably don't have your hearing today. You might not have it tomorrow. I've never worn earplugs at a concert before, which certainly isn't bragging, it's just fact. I had 6th row seats in front of the wall of speakers at Deep Purple when I was 17. I stood once in a small club on McCallie Avenue about 20 years ago watching Tinsley Ellis, and I could feel my eardrums palpitating from the sheer volume. I knew I was losing hearing that night, and I didn't like it. Last night, most everyone had them, and what a pleasure it was, after an incredible performance, to pull them out and to enjoy full, clear hearing.
3. J.'s rig. Dino is, of course, a three piece, but J. Mascis lives in his own little universe on stage. The boundaries of this universe are Marshall stack. Next to that stands another Marshall stack. Next to that stands a Hiwatt stack. These form an angled wall behind Mascis. In front of him is another stack with what looks like a bass head on top that faces him. It is probably four times the gear that you would expect to see a guitarist bring to a show, any show. Imagine this pagoda of sound in a club that holds, at most, 200 people. It's like Neil Young packed up his stadium set-up and brought it into your living room.
4. J. is in his own world and you are in yours. When Dinosaur Jr. is onstage, you can do nothing else but watch and listen. You can't talk to your friends--they will shrug their shoulders and give you a look of incomprehension. You can't chat up strange women for the same reason-- all your flirtatious loquaciousness is on mute. Even your cup of beer looks like an earthquake sensor in full activity. So you just let the band's sound take you over and you muse and you ponder and you dream of heaven.
5. Excellent companions. I was thinking yesterday morning that I didn't want to go. John made me go. He had been getting fired up by playing the tunes on his deck all weekend. Various people mentioned coming, but they didn't come. Billy came. He had to wait for his wife to get home from handbells practice. He didn't have a ticket. He could have bailed. He didn't. I've said it before about live music and I still believe it's true: you have to make the effort to go, because the older you get, the more things get in the way of your going. I'm glad we were able to share the experience. Even when you can't talk to each other, that smile, that nod to each other in the face of soaring, pounding, bass-in-your gut beauty is really all you need.
And Dinosaur Jr.? They were excellent companions, too, albeit more ambivalent ones. Their music was transcendent. Their noise was threatening. They put the sound out there and left it to us to figure out what to do with it.
"I Don't Wanna Go There" and "Tarpit" both come from the 7" vinyl given out to those who attended the show.