Indie icons Dinosaur Jr. have emerged from the COVID-19induced lockdowns and isolation over the past year with a new album. Their fifth post-reunion album and 12th overall, the Kurt Vile co-produced, Sweep It Into Space, was released back in April to widespread critical praise. After playing a few socially distanced shows last September, the band had planned to launch a full North American tour this September, but once again the pandemic reared its ugly head. This time, with the contagious Delta variant leading to a rise in cases and hospitalizations, the band made the decision to postpone their September and October tour dates. The tour did finally manage to cross the starting line on November 11th, and we caught the 4th show of the run at a sold-out Cat’s Cradle this past Monday in Carrboro, NC.
In an effort to address the safety of both performers and audience members, the Cradle has continued to require all attendees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID test before entering the venue, and once inside audience members are instructed to wear masks at all times. Despite the small inconvenience the Monday night crowd was in high spirits and really roared to life when the lights dropped and Dinosaur Jr. took the stage. The band, consisting of lead singer and guitar wizard J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph, put their heads down and started at the beginning (literally) with “Bulbs of Passion,” from 1985’s debut album Dinosaur. That was followed by “Thumb,” before digging into the new album with “I Ain’t”.
The performance was vintage Dinosaur Jr. The trio immediately dropped into a groove and chugged through the set with a familiarity refined over 15 years of playing together. The set was well balanced, showcasing new songs from Sweep It Into Space, including “Garden,” “I Expect It Always,” and “To Be Waiting,” with a mix of fan favorite tracks like “Freak Scene,” “Tarpit,” and “Start Choppin’,” pulled from across every era of their catalog. Frontman J Masics rarely ventured far from the left of the stage as he roared through searing solos drenched in squall, creating a wall of sound that rivaled his familiar wall of amps. To the right side of the stage, Lou Barlow was the antithesis of Mascis’ stoic and methodical playing. Barlow was a lightning bolt of energy, in constant motion as he played. He seemed to lose himself in the moment, long hair enveloping his face, as he stomped and whirled through the set. Holding the whole thing together was the driving force of Murph pounding out the beat behind his kit just to the left of Barlow and not quite center stage. Both literally and figuratively, Dinosaur Jr. let the music take center stage.
The show provided little in the way of flash or pretense, instead it was an invigorating and bombastic showcase of noise-rock delivered by one of the most unassuming and influential underground guitar bands of the last 30-plus years. Far from succumbing to nostalgia, Dinosaur Jr. showed that they remain vital and timeless.
Singer-songwriter Ryley Walker opened the evening with an energetic and artful set of songs that bobbed and weaved between indie rock, prog and psychedelia.