When a band reunites after so many years apart there is a stigma immediately attached to them. Even sects of usually enthusiastic music lovers cringe and squirm at the possibility of a group attempting to renew their sound in a modern context. Sometimes their suspicion is justified.
Breaking up in the late 90s and reforming in 2005, Dinosaur Jr proved that any cynical generalisation was not to apply to them, giving the O2 Academy crowd an example of live music at its very best.
Idaho based band Built to Spill were an apt starter for a night of alternative rock. With four guitarists including bass, they successfully fused a cascade of guitar distortion with melodic vocals and soft harmonies. Hindsight was particularly impressive.
However, further into the show it became clear that the set list could have been laid out differently and to better effect. Whilst there is nothing wrong with a slow and heartfelt song, the arrangements of the set did nothing to exude energy and rather instead drained it. Built to Spill are unmistakeably talented and easily accessible for the newcomers ear, but they needed an extra edge that wasn’t quite there for them.
For Dinosaur Jr it wasn’t an easy flight off the runway. Briefly marred by poor sound at the beginning of the set, there was an uncertainty where things would go. But once they found their stride, they didn’t lose it.
J Mascis was mesmerising to watch at times. He thrust his guitar into phases of heavily distorted noise, only to transcend into a controlled melodic solo, with breath-taking speed. Fellow band member Lou Barlow remained animated throughout. Relentlessly flinging his curly locks back and forth and frantically batting the neck of his bass guitar, he consistently rumbled a deep raucous tune.
Over it from recent album Farm was a short but sweet treat, and it was nice to hear a worthy cover of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven.
The height of Dinosaur Jr’s performance came with their rendition of Forget the Swan. Beginning with some dreamy singing from Barlow, the song soon careened into screeching noise, doused in energy. Where other bands may struggle to sustain interest in a prolonged instrumental section, Dinosaur Jr delivered it in epic proportions and left the stage in style.
During their absence the captivated crowd were briefly starved in a dire hunger for more. Barlow, Mascis and stand in drummer Kyle obliged and returned for three more songs. But still the Newcastle crowd wanted more.
Dinosaur Jr may be prehistoric in name, but they’re certainly no old fossil yet.