Flanked by a wall of Marshall stacks, J Mascis slowly cranks out those familiar opening chords to ‘Bulbs of Passion’. As the indecipherable anguish of his voice arcs over the sound of his famous Fender Jazzmaster guitar, the thunderous onslaught of Lou Barlow’s bass and Murph’s drums gatecrash the song’s melody. Dinosaur Jr have quickly achieved lift off and this year’s Beacons Metro has now well and truly started.
Rising from the ashes of the sadly departed Beacons Festival, the very first edition of Beacons Metro took place last year at various locations dotted over Leeds and the north of England. This year’s event concentrates solely on Leeds and tonight’s show featuring the hugely influential American grunge icons is the first of 16 that will take place across the West Yorkshire city during the next fortnight.
Just like Beacons itself, Dinosaur Jr have undergone some changes over the years. Their concise history can be divided into three distinct parts. The first, which dates from their inception in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1984 until they imploded five years later amidst a maelstrom of internecine strife, spawned three classic albums – Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me and Bug – that shaped an entire generation of alternative, guitar-driven rock music.
The second, following the unceremonious removal of Lou Barlow, has come to be defined by their major label output and the departure of the band’s other founding member, Murph. But eleven years ago all three original members put aside their past differences and embarked upon what may well turn out to be the third and final chapter in the Dinosaur Jr story.
Despite these line-up changes, Dinosaur Jr have never really fucked with the formula. And why would you when you have hit upon something that good? For more than 30 years now they have immersed contagious, often quite beautiful melodies in torrents of guitar-led noise. And for getting on for 100 minutes and 17 songs tonight – including a brilliant cover of The Cure‘s ‘Just Like Heaven’ – they do just exactly that. That they end up with a squalling, snarling blast of ‘Sludgefeast’ probably tells you just about all you will ever need to know about them.
For the duration, J Mascis stands to the left of the stage, impassive and largely immobile. With his long, lank silver hair, greying beard and The Teen Idles’ T-shirt (in recognition of the early ’80s American hardcore punk band and their only release, the Minor Disturbance EP) he cuts a figure somewhere between that of an ageing indie record shop assistant and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Gandalf. It is only the welter of decimating noise and gloriously extended solos emanating from his guitar that convinces you he is actually doing anything other than merely standing there.
By contrast Murph and Lou Barlow, in particular, are a constant blur of energy and motion. But for all that their collective appearance may seem to be most unlikely, the Boston trio still pack the most powerful of sonic punches to the solar plexus and in tonight’s blistering performance they well and truly kick-start this year’s Beacons Metro festival.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More images from this show can be found HERE