We’ve come a long way since the early ’90s, when Jay Mascis, Murph, and Lou Barlow were ripping through sonic pop numbers, leaving crowds smiling and often with mildly damaged hearing. This is 2019 and perhaps speaker technology has enabled the band’s catchy pop-rock sound to be appreciated at a tremendous volume without the potential damage affliction suffered a generation earlier. Or perhaps not! This was not a night to leave the earplugs at home. While Mascis may be one of the most accomplished straight-ahead guitar frontmen in rock, the moments of sweet mellow riffs were spare in between ear-splitting tunes. Mascis has a distinct setup with four large classic Marshall amps behind him to power his many Fender Jazzmasters. Volume is clearly a priority.
The band formed in the ’80s and became ’90s alt-rock darlings and trailblazers of the grunge movement made famous by the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The original lineup only lasted a few years in its original incarnation, as Barlow went on to considerable success leading Sebadoh. This lineup reunited in the mid-2000s and has been going strong ever since.
The band took the audience through favourites from four different decades. Classics including “Out There” and “Start Choppin” got the crowd of all ages going on a Thursday night at the venerable Commodore Ballroom. Newer material from the last decade included “Pieces” and “Goin Down.” Barlow and Mascis even traded roles for “Left/Right” from their most recent release, 2016’s Give a Glimpse of What You’re Not. Barlow took his turn on lead vocals, with Mascis slinging a bass in the background. It was a power trio for most of the evening, with the odd exception of the guitar tech providing some rhythm guitar and even an ever so brief keyboard accompaniment.
On the eve of another youth-led climate strike here in Vancouver, it was nice to see strong evidence of a youth movement at the front of the stage. Fans not born prior to the band reforming took to the air for some heavy crowd surfing. Age is no longer a factor in the live rock business.
We have clearly arrived at the golden era of ageless rock performers. In a week that began with 51-year-old Thom Yorke mesmerizing a sold-out Orpheum; the very same evening 74-year-old Pete Townsend led The Who into Rogers Arena; the Dinosaur Jr. trio, all in their mid-fifties, are now merely middle-aged rockers. While The Who may finally pull the plug (still not the safest bet), it’s a pretty safe bet that these Dinosaurs are not heading for extinction any time soon and will likely return to a local stage before too long. Just be sure to remember your earplugs next time!