As with many great things in life, my tenure as an intern at Joonbug had come to a close. Finishing up my last day was almost as difficult to get through as my first one. I was lingering in the office on a Friday evening, putting the final touches on my last Featured Artist Profile, when the editor-in-chief, Kelley Baker, came bouncing up to my workstation (which was quite unprecedented, since she was seated only ten feet away at her own desk) and tapped me on the shoulder.
"You're on the list to see Dinosaur Jr. on the 17th!"
Before I could even respond, her demeanor changed into deathly stoic seriousness. "But," she warned, "your article had better be good."
This image kept running through my mind as I trudged through the rain toward the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday night. Kelley had made it emphatically clear that Dinosaur Jr. is her favorite band and that the consequent article was to be no less than the best piece I have ever written. I assured her that I would write her an awe-inspiring article, egotistically thinking that I always write great articles, but knowing full well that even if Dinosaur Jr. took the stage for only one song, it would undoubtedly be one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Opening act Kurt Vile took the stage with his backing band The Violators and played a kind of stripped-down, well-orchestrated noise-rock that was an apt precursor for the show that was to come. Although the stage seemed crowded with the drum set placed front and center, and stacks of amplifiers and speakers three-high bisecting the stage, the band made full use of their available area, often dropping to their knees as they violently strummed every chord and solo. Despite lacking a traditional high-hat, the unique and unconventional drumming kept tempo on dual floor toms to create a driving, head thumping rhythm that exacerbated the impact of the guitars' reverberation. Certain creative additions, like a saxophone accompaniment on "Freak Train," helped to enhance the noisy themes expressed by Vile's throaty vocals, which he often built to a screaming crescendo before slamming his fists into a raging guitar riff. Even when he traded his reverb-heavy electric guitar chords for the intricacy of acoustic finger plucking, the brooding intensity never yielded. It was the kind of music that would have resulted if Richard Hell had grown up listening to Sonic Youth; the kind of hyper-loud brain-fuzz where every tone and vocal has its own unique rhythm, yet all syncs up in one massive, emotional swan-song.
The performance given by Kurt Vile and The Violators was the perfect segue to Dinosaur Jr.'s raucous set. After a few minutes of setting up the equipment, flicking the switches on the many amplifiers towering across the stage, and pulling back the backstage curtains to unveil the massive walking-foliage image from their Farm album, J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph, all three original members, walked down the staircase and across the stage amidst a roar of cheers from the crowd. They grabbed their instruments, gave a quick tune check, waited for Murph to take his pants off (a common occurrence among talented drummers, which I can tell you from experience, often improves one's capabilities behind a drum set), and started in on their auspicious sound which has been long been an influence on everyone from Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, to a giddy editor at Joonbug, to yours truly.
To say that the music they played was "deafening" would be a gross understatement. This was, by far, the loudest feedback-induced noise I have ever heard in my life. In my most thoughtful of educated deductions, I figured that the only way to get a clear indication of what was actually being played would be to stand across the street outside the venue with your fingers wedged into your ears. It was so loud that at one point I became extremely lightheaded and thought I might throw up on the couple standing in front of me. In spite of all of this, there was no possible way I would move even a fraction of an inch away from my spot adjacent to the stage.
Throughout their performance, all three members performed with a heightened level of professional execution, even while playing the most intense, earth-shattering noise imaginable. With an effortless and surgical precision, Mascis executed the most intricately technical guitar parts which, after wading through the reverb and feedback, were nothing short of perfect. Every guitar interlude caused me to note how modern rock is failing to deliver on the intricacies of the solo, which Mascis has dripping from his fingertips. With each masterful lick gripped by Mascis' mighty hand, Barlow and Murph would throw down the perfect accompaniment, almost overshadowing the guitar parts in intensity.
Along with classics like "Feel the Pain," which had the entire crowd punching the sky at the appropriate high-pitched accents, they played a number of songs off their post-reunion albums Beyond and Farm. While playing the song "Almost Ready" from Beyond, one of the middle strings snapped on Mascis' guitar. Without showing any concern for the setback, Mascis continued with the song, improvising the now unplayable parts on the lower-pitched strings; yet another indication of his incontestable guitar mastery.
Despite the ringing I now had in my ears, nothing could detract from the brain-shaking volume and utter majesty with which they played their last song of the set (from their first album, Dinosaur, released in 1985). They filled the hall with more noise and passion than previously displayed, and surely must have forced several of the audience members' hearts to momentarily stop beating. After playing for what seemed like an eternity and finishing up with an intricately long solo performed by all three members simultaneously, Murph and Barlow dropped their instruments and promptly left the stage. This left Mascis standing with his guitar, attempting to force as much feedback as possible out of the stacks of speakers. With the reverberating screech on full blast, he calmly un-shouldered his guitar, placed it facedown against the speaker, waved a quick thank-you to the audience, and quietly walked off stage leaving the guitar to howl and cry against the anguished speaker.
This alone was enough of a performance to leave the audience with memories to last a lifetime (and the hearing damage to prove it), but as with any tremendously magnificent performance, the crowd quickly began clapping in unison for an encore. It didn't take very long for Mascis, Barlow, and Murph to come back on stage.
Lou Barlow made an announcement at this point, the first preemptive statement that was more than a few simple words, first thanking the audience for their enthusiasm and then stating how his bass was a "Green Day Mike Dirnt" model. He then began to pluck the intro to "Longview" while Murph joined him. This comedic interlude quickly faded as Mascis, freshly tuned, signaled that he was ready to play and they performed a few more songs. By the time they officially left the stage (clearly indicated as Murph walked off with pants in tow), I was physically exhausted from the endless bombardment of sound waves reverberating throughout my body. Plus, there was a significant amount of blood dripping from my right ear (or so it imagined).
After reviewing my notes on the evening, I thought of how I could accurately describe my experience. There were several blank passages where I wrote down very little or nothing at all, unable to fully explain the mental state in which I found myself. There was one point, however, where a distinct revelation came to me. I wasn't actually watching three men on stage making noise. No, I was witnessing a redefinition of the Holy Trinity in real life. As I was completely captivated by the most beautifully raw sound imaginable, I lost all focus and attachment to the outside world and found myself in a blissful state of transcendence. Before I knew it, and without even realizing it, I was muttering out loud, "This is what heaven must be like."
I dare you to tell me that I'm wrong.