There are reunions, those sad nostalgia trips, often with missing members, that offer fleeting glimpses of greatness and glory days. And then there is getting back together, hanging out, and seeing what happens. Dinosaur Jr.’s buried-hatchet reunion tour, which just happened to swiftly follow Merge's reissue of the band’s first three records in the spring of 2005 – wonderfully remastered from the original itchy-scratchy recordings – produced some of that year’s best rock performances. The seminal line-up of guitarist and singer J Mascis, his former enemy, bassist, and co-frontman Lou Barlow, and stoic drummer Murph, not only managed to get along for an entire tour, but they actually gelled enough to write new songs and record them in Mascis’ home studio.
So the half-dozen shows the band played last fall in the Northeast, before heading across the pond to play on a bill with Sonic Youth and Gang of Four at the Thurston-Moore-curated All Tomorrows Parties’ "Nightmare Before Christmas" in Somerset, held the extra-tantalizing promise of new songs.
At Boston’s Paradise Club, the trio etched out a heady, thundering set that spanned Dinosaur’s entire career, including those years when Barlow was off fronting Sebadoh and Folk Implosion. Early in the set, though, the band casually slipped in two new songs, “This Is All I Came to Do” and “Back to Your Heart,” both barreling and ballsy, but with keen pop melodies we've come to expect from the crew.
There’s no denying Mascis has a way with a hook. ‘‘Feel the Pain” was as catchy a modern rocker as ‘‘Out There” was uncompromising and experimental. His grainy, laissez-faire voice was smooth, poignant and surprisingly forceful. Barlow, who occasionally took lead vox, hammered his bass, lapping up the air between Mascis' winding licks and Murph’s powerhouse hits. From a crowd-pleasing “Wagon” to a glorious, shredding “Forget the Swan,” Dinosaur exuded graceful ease, not just as a group, but individually as well. Barlow and Mascis each hugged their instruments to their amps, lost to their own powers, building an undeniable but brilliant tension unmatched by most bands today, reunited or otherwise.