Nearly four decades into one of the most influential careers in the history of alternative rock, it would be easy for a band like Dinosaur Jr. to soften up their reputation for ear-bleeding volumes and easygoing attitudes from their 1990s heyday.
But Dinosaur Jr. is not that band. In an 18-song set at Knitting Factory on Monday night, they walked the line between nonchalant and frenetic, composed and completely out of control, with a time-tested command that reminded fans what made them alt-rock cornerstones in the first place.
The energy from the young crowd when founding members Joe Barlow, Murph and J Mascis emerged from the wings felt like a shared excitement more expected in 1990 (also the year when Dinosaur Jr. released “The Wagon” on Sub Pop, which was played in the latter half of their set) than on a Monday evening in 2022.
Drawing six tracks from their 2021 album “Sweep It Into Space,” three from their 1985 post-punk tour de force “Dinosaur” and college radio rockers “Start Choppin’ ” and “Feel the Pain,” Dinosaur Jr. honored almost every part of their noise-drenched, pop horse-powered history without downplaying their latest effort.
Mascis’ guitar sound and 1970s-esque extended solos, which influenced acts including Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Built to Spill and Oasis, still sound inspired and are played at a volume that itself inspires everyone within a two-row radius to check the security of their earplugs.
Combine that with Mascis’ concertlong countenance indicating that he wouldn’t care if he’s one of the greatest guitarists alive, or that he actually is, and it makes sense why Dinosaur Jr. is popular today for the same reasons they were popular in the 1990s – an incalculable mix of talent, quirk and an almost confrontational laid-backness.
For example, almost every song on the setlist from “Sweep It Into Space” required a trip from a roadie placing long strips of cardboard with the lyrics for the new songs on the side facing Mascis. And they were lit by a lamp attached to his mic stand, of course.
Mascis left most of the talking to Barlow, who himself didn’t say much besides thanking the Knitting Factory crowd and was more than happy to serve up their songs with an authority and technique refined by time.
“Start Choppin’ ” signaled the first real moshing of the night, something that continued all the way through to the final song in the encore, a cover of the Cure’s 1987 hit “Just Like Heaven,” as the audience gave their best physical tribute to a band who has inspired so many feelings through music of their own and the music they’ve inspired, affirming their place in the pantheon of alternative rock for a new generation to discover and love.
Opening act Pink Mountaintops, sharing a similarly gray-bearded frontman as Dinosaur Jr. in Stephen McBean and his country-tinged psychedelic-pop, swung through an energetic half hour of music that called back to the headliners’ more niche sonic moments.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.