Dinosaur Jr – that wall-of-sound threesome (Sir Ampsalot, Sir Emmett of Murphland and Sir Louis Knox Barlow I) – returned to the West Coast in December to play their 1988 classic album Bug in its entirety. Dino were joined by that other icon, Henry Rollins, who interviewed the band for, as he put it “eight to fifteen minutes” before they stepped back onstage to blow eardrums.
So besides being AWESOME to hear the Bug album in full, what else was was particularly awesome about the Seattle and Vancouver shows on December 17 and 18?
I was there.
At the radio station, on the bus, at the hotel, backstage, sidestage and across the border, the BackstageRider tagged along…and Dinosaur Jr and their amazing crew put up with me. Here’s what happened in Seattle. Click on all photos to embiggen the magic.
I arrive in SEA,WA just in time for a Thai lunch with Lou at a restaurant near KEXP, where the band were to perform and be interviewed. The halls were crowded at the radio station, and filled with fan boys plus old friend/VP of SubPop Records, Megan Jasper. Megan’s known the band since almost-literally forever, and it was her mum Maureen who interviewed Joseph Jr. Mascis in this quite-remarkable video.
While the band played four tracks and Henry chatted on-air with the DJ, I stood, nose-pressed to the recording room window. The soundbooth was rammed and, possibly, shaking during that last bit of “Just Like Heaven” so I sought refuge elsewhere, to take the shots. Listen to the whole performance on KEXP’s site.
Afterwards, while Seattle photog Dave Lichterman set up for a photoshoot for the KEXP blog outside, the Three Messedkateers hung around chatting (ie, Murph did all the talking). J had just been to Whole Foods down the street. I knew this even before I saw the bag because a Twitter friend tweeted at me excitedly that his mate had just seen J in the shop. “Whole Foods people are REALLY SERIOUS about Whole Foods”, said Lou with a laugh. I introduce myself to J. His handshake is very light and if I’m not mistaken there might have been a “hi” uttered.
Set up in the parking lot, Henry and the band pose for photos…
…aaaand goof around. J starts slowly pushing imself away, rolling downhill, while the mostly-serious-but-actually-really-fucking-funny-when-he’s-with-the-band Henry Rollins tells some sort of entertaining anecdote. That’s photog Dave in shot. Here’s his set of pics on Flickr, they’re rad:)
Then Rollins and I chat about the first time I met in him in ‘92 when he was out on tour with the Rollins Band and Therapy? in Toronto. “That was ‘94,” he corrects then goes off on a ramble about how he manages to remember certain gigs and tours and festivals. (“There are some festivals where you always see and tip your hat to Paul Weller…”) Rollins likes to ramble – he’s good at it. And very entertaining.
We all head over to Showbox at the Market, a fine venue. At some point, after soundcheck I find myself sitting backstage, silently, with J Mascis, while he eats some Liberte yogurt . A glacial-paced year seems to pass, but everyone knows that J’s not *cough*, a big talker. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about being backstage, it’s that one must blend in with one’s environment. So I also sit silently. But within minutes, I can’t stand it.
Me: “You have to have one of the most healthy riders I’ve seen, ever.”
Me: “Your backstage rider. Yogurt, Perrier, brown Rice Crispies…it’s so healthy. And coconut water is awesome! Lou told me about how it’s good for hangovers.”
Anyway! Here’s the a pic of the band’s most awesome openers, Pierced Arrows, in a haze of hair, insanity and sheer amazingness. Backstage Lou tells me their long history about how they used to be known as Dead Moon, and were really popular in Europe, and I marvel at the fact that the drummer, Kelly, sitting down is almost as tall as bassist Toody is when she’s standing up. They’re really, really great. And Toody? An insane bass player, a monster on that thing. “Almost as good as Lou Barlow,” a fan says to me.
Then it’s time for the Henry Rollins interview. On stage, you can tell Rollins takes his interviewing job seriously. (Fuck, man, he seems to take EVERYTHING seriously, bless him) and takes care to ask different questions each night to keep things well-paced. “They’re not the most loquacious” he’d said earlier in the day at KEXP to the DJ, and he’s right. It’s kinda amazing, the whole Interview-Three-Dinosaurs concept, and a cool twist to the usual. I like me some cool twists. I also like Black Flag. Double win!
During the interview, though, J is positively chatty (at least a dozen words!) and very dryly funny. There are jokes about the old days. Lou refers to having to wait for J to finish watching All My Children (which J’s watched since he was about 12 years old) so they could practice. All laugh. I admit that the image of J, wrapt in front of soap operas is a rather quite entertaining picture to rest on.
Backstage, Murph and I joke about how his non-alcoholic beers tend to disappear because folks see the Beck’s labels and grab ‘em thinking they’re “real”. A clear-eyed Murph is lovely to see. The crew recall other times when Murph played the Shoebox and was, uh, a little worse for wear. But that was then, and this is now. Perrier and N.A. beer, hell yeah!
Before go-time, I ask Henry about his acting career and if there’s any plans to return to it (I’m pointing at you, rather quite disturbingly good stint on Sons of Anarchy). Not at the moment, he says, he’s busy concentrating on his series Animal Underworld for National Geographic, which has taken him to a shopping list of cool international enclaves. But, he concedes, “I’ve been in a lot of straight-to-DVD movies, because at this stage of my career, I kind of almost say yes to anything that I get offered and I’m very fortunate. But I don’t NEED to do the acting. I have lots of other things going on.”
A few minutes after wrap with Henry, it’s time for Dino. Sir Ampsalot earns his nickname by walling himself in among a stack of six Marshall amps, which, Lou says, is entirely unnecessary… but we all know adds to the mystique and enormousness, right? I am thankful for my heavy-duty earplugs….in fact, me, Murph and Lou all spend a lot of time going “WHAT? SORRY? WHAT??? to each other.
Pictured: White Wizard. Not pictured underfoot: Three square blocks worth of pedals, including J’s own purple (what else?) Fuzz Munchkin. Not to be confused with Fuzzy Lumpkins from the Powerpuff Girls.
Shortly after this picture was taken, Murph runs over to me during a break in a song, and asks me: “Can you get my drum key out of my jeans back pocket?” I go backstage, rifle through his jeans, delete everything in his phone, steal his credit cards and find the drum key. (Okay, the last bit was true.) SEATTLE, THE REASON MURPH COULD KEEP DRUMMING WELL WAS BECAUSE OF ME. YOU’RE WELCOME. #NoactuallyitwasbecauseofMurphwhoisagreatdrummerbutwhatevs
Fact: Lou Barlow wears his shoes on stage for only one or two songs then goes be-socked. His socks are from Marks & Spencer in England. The trousers were new from Portland (he made a resolution to not look shleppy on stage), and the glow is the radiation of his AWESOME PLAYING WITHIN DINOSAUR JR. To wit: here’s the setlist of that night.
You know what else was mind-bendingly amazing to watch? Henry Rollins (who is, it must be said, AN ENORMOUS DINO JR FAN) sitting directly behind J’s amps EVERY NIGHT and, in between jotting notes on whatever into a notebook, HEADBANGING, AIR PUNCHING, PURSING HIS LIPS, SINGING OR NODDING ALONG along to all the songs. Beautiful to see Dinosaur Jr’s own hero sitting behind them so dedicated.
And as the theme here has been focused around awesome…let me introduce you to Shannon, k?
This is Shannon. You know the last song on Bug called “Don’t”? The one song that Lou sings? That was written for Lou about Lou? The one everyone talks about because its five words “WHYYYYYY! WHYYYYY DON”T YOU LIKE MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE?” was screamed so strongly and repeatedly during recording that it caused Lou to hork up a few bits of blood? Well, understandably, Lou doesn’t like to bloody his vocal chords much anymore, so he invites audience members sometimes to scream in his stead. Shannon’s apparently a drummer in a heavy metal band…who also didn’t know the song at all. None of the words. None of all five of the words. “I went to tell her how the song went,” said Lou afterwards,”but she was, like, ‘yeah, whatever’ and just went for it.” Instead she just screamed great big guttural howls. BRILLIANT!
Also awesome? Her stagediving and the parts when her skirt just rode up over her leggings and she didn’t pull it down, and when she sat down on the stage just screaming, and when she was generally all I don’t give a fuck. Yeah, this pic sorta sums up how I felt about the night, too, trying not to give a fuck, having fun in the moment, ‘cos, really, there ain’t much else more awesome than hanging out with Dinosaur Jr. and Henry Rollins. Except for maybe coconut water after a hangover. \m/