Reviews Dinosaur Jr. Live at 9:30 Club: In the Hands of the Fans

Dinosaur Jr.

Live at 9:30 Club: In the Hands of the Fans

In 1988 Dinosaur Jr. released their third record Bug. Despite it being lead singer/guitarists and band leader J.Mascis’ least favorite outing, it was their most successful album up to that point. While touring in support of it, tension between Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow, who had known each other since high school and played together in hardcore band Deep Wound in the early ‘80s, grew too large to ignore. As a result, Barlow was kicked out of the band in ‘89. He then went on to focus his energies full-time in his former side gig, the equally tumultuous Sebadoh and collaborated with singer-songwriter John Davis in the Folk Implosion. Surviving numerous line-up changes, Mascis trudged along with Dinosaur Jr, releasing several critically acclaimed albums and cementing himself as a pivotal character in the ‘90s alternative rock movement. Fast forward twenty-two years: Bug has been included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, Barlow has since reunited with Mascis and original drummer Murph, and the band has announced they will be heading out on the road, playing the album in its entirety. With that comes, Dinosaur Jr. Live at 9:30 Club.

This is the second installment (following Iggy & the Stooges Raw Power Live) of the In The Hands of the Fans DVD series, a video submission contest in which the winners get to film a concert. Fans were asked to submit short high-definition video segments, asking Dinosaur Jr. interview questions and/or demonstrating why they should win the contest. Under the tutelage of Dave Markey, best known as the documentarian behind 1991: The Year Punk Broke, six contestants were selected to film the band’s June ‘11 stop in Washington D.C. at the famed 9:30 Club.

Early in the film there are brief snippets of Mike Watt, Keith Morris, Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, and the fan video submissions. Predictably, the video submissions are goofy as hell. Jeriamy Vann, who has either been crying or smoking lots of pot or possibly both, pleads his case, “I’m like, one of the biggest Dinosaur Jr. fans…one of the biggest EVER…please pick me.” Matt Moffatt, perched among his many crates of vinyl, says, “I’m going to talk to you about 1988…” Then, sitting in front of a TV watching an old MTV 120 Minutes interview with the band, while feigning geeky emotion, says, “Oh man, this kind of heavy here.” It really is uber-fandom at its most hokey.

Despite being shot by amateurs, the concert footage is really good. Each of the six contestants were placed at various locations around the club—up front, on stage, the balcony, back of the house, in the audience, etc. Some shots are shakier than others, some are clean, and some are grainy, but it’s clear they used really nice cameras. The whole concert is edited superbly, switching between angles at an appeasing pace. Quite frankly it doesn’t really look any different than other professionally produced concert movies.

Dinosaur Jr., despite their best attempts to inflict permanent hearing loss on the audience, aren’t really much for showmanship—their physical energies never match that of that of their auditory onslaught. They are a band that, well, kind of just stands there and plays some songs. It doesn’t really matter in person though, because the sheer volume exposure more than makes up for their lack of bodily movement. But unfortunately, their stationary stage presence doesn’t translate well to television—it’s the disconnection between at-home viewer and band performance that is the films greatest fault. That being said, there are some spirited moments. The band seems to come alive near the end of the Bug set on songs like “Budge”, “The Post” and “Don’t.” The latter of which is one that Barlow would normally have sang. But instead, stating he blew out his vocal chords early in the tour, he invites the aforementioned weeping/stoned contest winner Jeriamy on stage to sing it instead. It’s quite an endearing moment actually, as he pretty much nails it perfectly. Twenty-plus years later it is apparent Bug has really held up well. Given the live treatment, it comes across refreshingly contemporary. The band rounds out the set nicely with some audience-requested tracks from their ’87 album You’re Living All Over Me—“Sludgefest” and “Raisans.”

Overall, the film would probably appeal most to the contest winners, people in attendance that want a comemorative artifact, Dino Jr. super fans, or anyone that didn’t get to see the original lineup of the band (and may not get to before they break up again.) As well, if you have never seen Dinosaur Jr. live it would be an adequate consolation. But I would suggest seeing, or, experiencing them in person…with ear plugs, of course.

6.0 / 10Nathan G. O'Brien
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