By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- One of the most influential alternative bands to help shape the sound of modern rock in the late '80s, Dinosaur Jr. brings its tuneful, explosively loud songs to the Fillmore for two nights this week.
While the Amherst, Massachusetts-based band came together in 1984, its roots can be traced back to the punk band Deep Wound featuring drummer J. Mascis and guitarist Lou Barlow formed two years earlier when the musicians were still in high school. Initially focused on the aggressive sounds of hardcore and speed metal, the band would later incorporate influences from '70s forebears Black Sabbath and Neil Young, shambling post-punk band the Replacements and the emerging psychedelic jangle pop of bands like Dream Syndicate, the two players would switch instruments -- Mascis moving to guitar and Barlow picking up bass -- when they formed the trio Dinosaur with drummer Emmett "Murph" Murphy after Deep Wound broke up.
The band released its 1985 eponymous debut on college friend Gerard Cosloy's Homestead Records label, mixing folk tunes that featured Mascis's trademark nasal vocal delivery with louder, more abrasive songs built around his ferocious guitar squall (both clearly indebted to Neil Young). The band would move to punk imprint SST Records for their celebrated sophomore effort You're Living All Over Me in 1987, a noisy yet melodic album that broke the band to a much wider audience and would later be hailed as a high-water in late '80s underground rock.
The group gained more notoriety after being forced by a lawsuit to change their moniker due to a San Francisco band of '60s rock veterans that had an earlier claim to "Dinosaur," leading the trio to add "Jr." to their name. The band's follow-up Bug was also met with critical acclaim, but would be the last to feature Barlow before intra-band tension led to his acrimonious firing by Mascis. The bassist went on to enjoy success on his own with lo-fi indie projects Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion.
While Murph would stay on board with what would end up being a revolving door of bass players -- including Team Dresch founder Donna Dresch, Screaming Trees bassist Van Conner and solo songwriter/Mark Lanegan collaborator Mike Johnson -- the first major label album for Dinosaur Jr. after being signed to Sire Records in 1990 (Green Mind released the following year) was essentially Mascis overdubbing all parts himself, including a majority of the drums.
The band's popularity continued to grow as a bigger audience embraced the sounds of alternative rock -- though they would be eclipsed by some bands who opened for them like Nirvana. Mascis and company continued to refine their mix of punk energy and epic classic-rock guitar anthems on 1994's Where You At, though Murph would depart before the band's next album, Hand It Over.
Mascis would retire the Dinosaur Jr. name after that recording, moving on to solo efforts backed by new band the Fog during the early 2000s. Later in the decade, he would also return to playing drums with stoner-rock band Witch (and later still in the group Sweet Apple featuring some of the same players). But more importantly, the guitarist would reconcile with Barlow and reunite the classic Dinosaur Jr. line-up with Murph on drums, appearing on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in 2005, becoming a regular attraction at music festivals and putting out Beyond, the first album with those members back in the band two years later.
Since then, the trio has kept up a steady pace of releasing new critically acclaimed albums every two or three years and touring regularly. While the pandemic curtailed the band's activity, they did decide to release a performance livestreamed from the Sinclair in Boston last spring as an official concert document entitled Emptiness at The Sinclair.
That show was recorded shortly after the release of Sweep It Into Space, Dinosaur Jr.'s latest studio effort that the band started recording with co-producer and sometimes Mascis collaborator Kurt Vile in 2019 that was completed during the COVID shutdown. The record has been hailed by some critics as its most melodic in years. For this two-night run at the Fillmore, the band is joined by Canadian psychedelic experimentalists Pink Mountaintops, the softer, more melodic side project of Black Mountain mainstay Stephen McBean.
Wednesday-Thursday, Feb. 16-17, 8 p.m. $45 (2-day ticket $80)
for more features.