Dinosaur Jr. Deafens Flannel-Clad Crowd at the Agora

1980s hard indie rock trio still releasing relevant music, blowing out eardrums

click to enlarge Dinosaur Jr. at the Agora, (10/1/22). - Eric Heisig
Eric Heisig
Dinosaur Jr. at the Agora, (10/1/22).

There really aren’t that many dynamics in Dinosaur Jr.’s music. Just loud and louder.

Well, more like deafening. Good thing I wore earplugs to the band’s show Saturday night at the Agora.

The hard indie rock trio, on tour to promote its new album “Sweep It Into Space,” was in fine form as it mixed new songs with old in a 100-minute set for a far-from-full, flannel-clad Cleveland crowd, its first local performance since a 2018 show at the Grog Shop.

The band continues to be one of the few remaining 1980s alternative acts — one that predated and heavily influenced numerous grunge bands — that releases relevant music. Following the original lineup’s reunion in 2005, guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph have released one strong record after another, and Saturday’s show was a near-perfect overview of everything the band has done since its debut in 1985.

There was the sludge and garage rock of “Freak Scene,” the melodic alternative rock of “The Wagon” and “Feel the Pain” and the relaxed guitar heroics of “Been There All the Time.” There was also a bit of funky jamming .(within reason, mind you). on “Start Choppin.” There was even an extended psychedelic freakout on set  — closer “Gargoyle.”

Still, the concert showed that even with the variations, the basic formula has stayed the same for nearly four decades: ear-piercing guitar rock with Mascis’ tenderly sung lyrics buried underneath a wall of noise emanating from the three Marshall stacks behind him. Think of them as being in the same mold as the Ramones or AC/DC: consistently churning out hard rock that doesn’t reinvent the wheel.

This may seem like a criticism but it isn’t. Consistency is too often taken for granted. Dinosaur Jr. is deft enough to write one memorable tune after another, even within the confines it set for itself.

Plus, well into their 50s, the band appears to still have fun doing it. Even the subdued Mascis. On Saturday, he ripped off one tasty lick after another with ease while Barlow bounced and swayed as he strummed his bass. Murph kept the strong and steady backbeat, smacking the drums hard enough to wonder how many he breaks every week. He even appeared to quote Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham as he pummeled his way through “Mountain Man.”

The band finished the show with ferocious covers of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and The Stooges’ “T.V. Eye,” welcoming Death of Samantha/Cobra Verde lead singer (not to mention former Plain Dealer reporter and Mascis’ bandmate in Sweet Apple) John Petkovic for the latter.

As Petkovic bounded about the stage and shouted Iggy Pop’s lyrics, the only thing louder was the music behind him.

Singer/songwriter/guitar whiz Ryley Walker opened with his mix of jazz, folk, rock and noise. Working alongside a bassist and drummer, his entertaining 40-minute set featured several multi-part suites and served as a strong distillation of his wide-ranging abilities.

Setlist:
1. The Lung
2. I Ain't
3. Garden
4. Little Fury Things
5. Out There
6. Crumble
7. I Expect It Always
8. To Be Waiting
9. I Met the Stones
10. The Wagon
11. Been There All the Time
12. Start Choppin
13. Feel the Pain
14. Mountain Man
15. Freak Scene
16. Gargoyle

Encore:
17. Get Me
18. Just Like Heaven (The Cure cover)
19. T.V. Eye (The Stooges cover, with John Petkovic)

Eric Heisig is a freelance writer in Cleveland. He can be reached at [email protected]

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