This past Saturday night around Wrigleyville was a madhouse. The noise coming from the friendly confines of Wrigly Field was loud and energizing, matching the excitement in the myriad of bars that surround the area. The streets typically filled with park cars were replaced with people haphazardly trying to make their way towards Wrigley Field where the Cubs were in the lead and surely about to secure a second win in the playoffs. A part of me really wanted to see the Cubs win at home, but the call of Dinosaur Jr. performing at the Metro roared louder in my head.
After the first song of The Thalia Zedek Band’s opening set, which was dedicated to those affected by hurricane Matthew, there were a few outcries of ” Who are you guys?” While it’s easy to take that the wrong way considering Zedek’s long musical career, the question was raised out of utterly impressed joy. There was no time wasted in grabbing the audience’s attention as Zedek’s bluesy guitar packed a punch while David Curry’s viola dazzled at the edge of the stage while the rest of the band filled in an impressive sound. There are elements of post rock and punk throughout their sound, but it’s all grounded by emotive lyrics that Zedek’s strong and beautifully raspy voice. Her voice cut through the noise with a passionate force that couldn’t help but make fans of the crowd.
Steve Gunn followed up Thalia Sedek’s amazing performance with one of his own. Gunn focus most of his set on his guitar-work, standing stoically center stage as he and his band doled out their guitar driven songs. I was aware of Gunn through Kurt Vile’s band the Violators and knew his songs would be expansive and grand. The best moments in his set were where his band took songs off the rails and veered off deep into them, playing with the intricacies hidden within the tunes. They never seemed to fall under the typical overindulgence that jams can affect, instead they created deep grooves of needed diversion. Gunn loked determined throughout the set, pushing his talents far beyond what I expected.
The sold out and diverse crowd was more than ready when it finally came time for Dinosaur Jr. The band’s career has spanned over 30 years (albeit with decade absence in the middle), so their fanbase spans across a fairly large age range. With their return in 2007, they brought in plenty of new rabid indie rock faithful in the fold. There were multiple times when I saw generations of family meeting up at the show, equally excited to see these alternative rock behemoths. It’s not surprising, Dinosaur Jr.’s sound has a timeless quality that demands to be heard.
There wasn’t a moment during their massive and career spanning 18 song setlist where it felt like Dinosaur Jr. weren’t delivering one of the best rock performances of the year. The set list avoided covers the band has been playing recently. While it would have been nice to here them take on The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”, this was not the night for it. Instead it was an opportunity to let early songs like “Bulbs of Passion” and “The Lung” fit right in with newer “I Watch for Miles” and “Watch the Corners”. Every song was given the same amount of care and attention from both the band and the crowd, adding to the evening’s electric atmosphere.
Dinosaur Jr. were firing on all cylinders, pulling out performances that looked and sounded icon and emblematic of their personas. J Mascis stood off to the side with an unflappable demeanor. He seemed calm and statuesque, letting his hands and voice do all the work as the purple and green lights washed over him. Lou Barlow held the opposite end of the stage, offering as much musical prowess but adding in the moves of a madman let loose on a stage. He was monstrously large in his movements, erupting at every songs with a veracious joy. Murph sat between them at his kit, barrelling down on his drums.
Around the middle of the set, “Feel the Pain” acted as the lynch pin of the show and unified the crowd. The song was one written entirely by J Mascis, full of this sadness that he delivers perfectly live. With Muprh and Barlow adding in their live explosiveness into it, the song felt all the more complete. This was the moment were everyone seemed to push in a little more and absorb the intensity of the show.
Their final four songs were pulled from earlier albums and were centered on a bombastic delivery. “Freak Scene ” and “Gargoyle”melded together with a white hot potency. The encore that culminated in the huge “Mountain Men” more than showed that, bringing that song of their first album into the modern day with the veracity it deserves. Dinosaur Jr. falls under the very unique category of bands who reunited and didn’t miss a step. I would normally say that these songs were performed as they were in their heyday, but that heyday is now. Dinosaur Jr. are constantly proving that this period is the band at their best even after all these years behind them.
All photos by Julian Ramirez