Before they were threatened into adding a suffix to their name, Dinosaur Jr. were just Dinosaur. It was under that name that the band released its self-titled debut album on Homestead Records 33 years ago this month. On Dinosaur they don’t quite sound like the band they would become—their hardcore roots are a little too evident at times, and bassist Lou Barlow sings more songs than J Mascis, whose nasal voice is synonymous with the group. It’s more than just a footnote in the band’s discography, though, which currently sits at 11 total albums released on either side of a ten-year break. Not every song sounds like the band that recorded the indie-rock ur-text You’re Living All Over Me just two years later, but there are parts of Dinosaur that sound exactly like the band they would become. You can hear them figuring it out in the studio, primarily on two songs that Mascis sings, “Severed Lips” and “Repulsion.” Both songs sound like a lethargic hardcore band playing ‘70s metal riffs with ragged pop choruses—or, in other words, like early Dinosaur Jr.
That original lineup was infamously short-lived. Mascis and Barlow quickly grew to detest each other, and Barlow was kicked out of the band in 1989. Mascis would lead Dinosaur Jr. to greater success during the early alternative era, but despite some minor hits on MTV and alternative radio they still remained a cult band. By the 1997 album Hand It Over, Mascis was the only original member left, and it was clear that Dinosaur Jr.’s time had passed; he retired the name after that album, and started a new project under the name J Mascis + the Fog.
We live in an era where no classic band stays broken up, though—at least no band that people would still pay good money to see. Mascis and Barlow eventually settled their differences, and the original lineup (with drummer Murph, who I probably should’ve introduced like two paragraphs ago) began a reunion in 2005 that is still going strong. Unlike so many other classic college radio or indie rock bands that have reunited over the last decade, Dinosaur Jr. isn’t just rehashing their (not quite) hits; they’ve released four albums since 2007, and remarkably they’re more interesting than most of their 1990s albums. They’re not just cashing in on the past, but remain a vital rock band at a time when those are in extremely short supply.
It was during this reunion that Dinosaur Jr. recorded a set for Daytrotter in June 2009. Released two weeks before their album Farm, this session contains exactly zero songs from that record, which seems like a really weird way to promote a record. They did play two songs from that very first album, though, ones that we already mentioned above: “Severed Lips” and “Repulsion.” On the verge of releasing a brand new album, they circled back to their earliest days and played two songs that were almost 25 years old at the time.
Here’s one of them. On “Repulsion” you can hear a band that’s comfortable with itself and with its past, and that took decades to reach that peace, no matter how relaxed its singer might’ve sounded all the while.There’s still a remnant of that hardcore edge, with the double-time breakdown after the chorus, but there’s no mistaking this for the Dinosaur Jr. that disenchanted kids grew to know and love throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.