J. Mascis won’t chat up Dinosaur Jr.’s latest album, “Sweep It Into Space,” until his band’s date, Feb. 7 at the Knitting Factory, approaches. Fair enough.
The laconic Mascis has been a routinely challenging interview anyway. Only Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star has been more difficult as a subject looking back at my long run as an entertainment journalist.
The only time Mascis emoted during a conversation was a generation ago when I mentioned his on-again, off-again musical partner, Lou Barlow, told me of a dream in which he played the guitar hero’s funeral. “What?!” Mascis screeched as he became animated and spoke of their then-feud.
Mascis, Dinosaur Jr.’s vocalist-guitarist, and Barlow, the band’s vocalist-bassist, went their separate ways at the end of the 1980s before reconciling a few years after the turn of the century.
Their attitude toward each other has changed, but Mascis remains the same. The indie icon is always saving it for the studio where he has always been buoyed by Barlow. Early Dinosaur Jr. material, through 1988 and post-reunion albums, are among the band’s finest.
However, Barlow is typically underused. Barlow once again only contributes a pair of songs to “Sweep It Into Space,” but they’re two of the album’s finest cuts, the gorgeous “Garden” and “You Wonder.”
Barlow doesn’t get enough credit. When Barlow was booted from Dino Jr. just before grunge popped the hair metal bubble, it was for the best since Sweet Lou formed Sebadoh, which he fronts and still enjoys a solid but unsung career.
Barlow and Mascis make for a pair of visionaries, which is typically two more than most rock bands. Mascis is in fine form throughout Dino Jr.’s 13th album. His lyrics are concise as usual, and his guitar play is spirited and melodic. “I Met the Stones” is amusing. “Hide Another Round” is an infectious gem.
Longtime drummer Murph is his familiar sledgehammer self. The lone outsider is Kurt Vile, who plays 12-string guitar throughout the catchy single “I Ran Away.”
Dinosaur Jr. is one of those rare rock bands who survived a fractured relationship with a reunion that’s lasted nearly 20 years. So many solid-to-spectacular bands, such as Buffalo Tom, Built to Spill and My Bloody Valentine, have been influenced by Dinosaur Jr.
The trio has survived Mascis’ control freak scene that spit out Barlow after the release of the band’s seminal 1988 album, “Bug.”
It’s remarkable after releasing “Bug” and 1987’s exceptional “You’re Living All Over Me” that Dinosaur Jr. arguably hit its creative peak with 2016’s “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not.” Barlow once again contributed two solid songs, and Mascis’s guitar prowess remains impressive.
The key is the trio’s chemistry with the 2016 release and “Sweep It Into Space.” Many aging rockers run out of ideas, but Mascis, Barlow and Murph are not only inspired, but Dinosaur Jr. also continues to execute like Neil Young and Crazy Horse, who had such an impact on the band.
Much like Young, Mascis is an idiosyncratic player who is uncompromising. Nearly 40 years have passed since Dinosaur Jr. emerged, and the group is as powerful and underrated as it’s ever been.
Dinosaur Jr.’s Spokane show is well off on the horizon, but the band will deliver the new material as well as classics, and it will be loud and memorable.
Dinosaur Jr. appears Feb. 7 at the Knitting Factory, 919 W. Sprague Ave. Tickets are $27.50. Show time is 8 p.m. For more information: (509) 244-3279 and sp.knittingfactory.com.
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