Living All Over

The surprising return of '80s indie-rock heroes Dinosaur Jr.

It's one of the most infamous of post-punk feud songs. After years of onstage dysfunction and offstage sniping between leader-guitarist J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow—whose respective personalities partook of a gruff quietude and a happy outgoingness—Barlow was chucked from Dinosaur Jr. under the guise of a band breakup. In 1991, two years after the split, Barlow vented his rage on "The Freed Pig," the opening track of Sebadoh's III. "You were right," Barlow sneered at Mascis, whose self-containment inspired the title of Dinosaur's classic You're Living All Over Me. "I was battling you . . . I've got nothing better to do than pay too much attention to you."

In the wake of spiff remasters of the first three Dinosaur albums and subsequent shows here and in the U.K., the tale of their corrosive intraband life has been rehashed everywhere from Mojo and MTV.com to The New York Times. With the trio (guitar antihero Mascis, bassist Barlow, and drummer Murph) patched up enough to travel together by bus, a question arises: Have you heard enough, Lou?

"Uh. Yeah," he answers from a tour stop in Milwaukee. "Yesterday I read something in The Onion that we did where they ask all three of us the same questions. J answers in one sentence and I answer in two paragraphs. I'm like, 'I gotta shut up about this.' It's pretty easy for me to tap into a lot of my issues, the whole breakup of the band. But I don't know. We played a show last night and it went really well, and at the end of the show we're all waiting to do an encore. And we're just standing there and talking about it. And I'm like, 'This is really cool!' If this is where all of that crap that I've talked about before—I've made it abundantly clear how I felt about it—it's kinda cool that it's all ended, that it's come to this point where we're just playing these shows and enjoying the songs."

Much like the Pixies and Gang of Four reunion gigs, Dinosaur's 2005 shows are a sort of communion for older and younger fans, a place to glory in alt-rock roots. The original trio melted down Mascis' adored punk and oi!-style hardcore with gentle melodies and occasionally lovely, almost folk-rock guitar lines. The blend resounded in much of what became known as grunge and stoner rock.

"We had really pretty varied tastes," Barlow remembers. There were a lot of other bands that came out that we used to play with back then—I don't know if I thought that they were better than us, but I thought that they had their shit together a little more, bands like Pussy Galore and Scratch Acid, bands that were a little more black and white."

Unlike Dinosaur Jr., which even made a handful of eye-poppingly colorful videos that augment the new CD reissues. "The songs that J was writing, they were really a combination of his influences. We weren't cutting everything down and trying to be cool. When I go back and listen to something like Big Black now, I'm like, 'Yeah, this shit is totally one-dimensional.' People still talk about how great it is, but fuck that, you know? The stuff that lasts is the stuff that actually has a little bit of color to it, where everything's not just like 'This is heavy and scary!' Nothing ages worse than heavy music—heavy, scary music just sounds like a fuckin' cartoon five years later. At least with Dinosaur and the way J wrote the songs, there's other stuff going on. There [are] pretty chords." He laughs. "The sun comes bursting out in every single song."

Barlow clearly remains a fan of Mascis', even praising the latter's secretiveness in placing the remasters with Merge Records just as the label was releasing Barlow's own solo album. ("Weird! Weird!" he says with relish.) The band was as big an influence on him as anyone else, he says.

"Dinosaur pretty much kept it real. There was not a lot of artifice, not a lot of pretension. I took that with me. When they kicked me out of the band, I took what I felt like the essence of the band was. Not that I took it away from them. J is the genesis, the creator, the mastermind. I was really influenced by it. I had my own way of expressing that."

So a lack of plans for ongoing activity following this tour, and even a surfeit of clumsy headline puns (Boston Globe: "Dinosaur is happy to be no longer extinct"), can't dim Barlow's enthusiasm: "We're playing the songs really well, and we're as loud as we ever were and as aggressive as we ever were." Of course, there was that "ragged" performance on Craig Ferguson's late-night show in April.

"That was our first time playing in front of people. To me, it was a little on the retarded side. But after that, it made everything a lot easier. 'Wow, we're not playing on national television, at least.'"

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Dinosaur Jr. play the Showbox with Love as Laughter and Alaska! at 8 p.m. Sat., Aug. 20. $25 adv./$30.

 
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