In my pocket my phone buzzed. A message. Trev.
I’m up front watching J. Mascis…His left hand up the neck of his telecaster is like a bionic crab!
On a stormy Thursday evening the weather is Singaporean heavy and portentous. Trev, Matty and I are at The Gov, Adelaide’s best live music pub. American indie band Dinosaur Jr. is playing. We’re at the back of the room and we’re feeling the fuzzy guitar.
Like a 1990’s disaster film- doubtless featuring a frowning Tommy Lee Jones- we’re pummelled by cataclysmic forces. However, it’s not an indiscriminate assassin, it’s a benevolent god: a ’63 Fender Jazzmaster. It’s the star of the show.
Later, I squeeze my way up the front too. I’m only a few feet from the stage. With his long hair- Trev calls him the “Grey Ghost”- eyes closed and expressionless dial, he reminds me of the Dude from The Big Lebowski.
And here’s a key. He appears utterly uninterested; he’s not even in the room with us. He’s home in Massachusetts thinking of making a cuppa tea, yet he’s generating that unique sound- soaring yet distorted, joyfully immaculate and also hovering just above swirling noise. It’s a magic carpet. It’s why we’re here.
A highlight is “Start Choppin’” from their breakthrough set Where You Been. It remains among my favourite album art. I didn’t know the band when in 1993 I first saw the CD in Big Star Records on Rundle Street, but it spoke of a weird world: all misshapen darkness and bizarre humour. It looked fun.
And here’s another key to their appeal. Mascis sings with a whining, drawling, nasal voice. A bit Neil Young, but without any commitment. He’s telling you a story, but doesn’t think you can be bothered to listen. He expects you to walk off as he’s mid-story. Maybe to make a cuppa tea. Again he reminds me of The Dude.
The Dude: Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man.
Malibu Police Chief: Mr. Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town. You don’t draw shit, Lebowski. Now we got a nice, quiet little beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don’t like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Lebowski. I don’t like your jerk-off name. I don’t like your jerk-off face. I don’t like your jerk-off behaviour, and I don’t like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?
The Dude: [after a pause] I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.
Dinosaur Jr. perform melodic, simple songs that pioneered the loud/quiet dynamic that’d become the sonic signature of grunge. “Feel The Pain” and “Out There” elevate the crowd too, and the last song of the encore “Gargoyle” closes with a meandering, enthralling guitar solo that’s at once cosmic, searing and euphoric.
And there’s J. Mascis, barely aware of his battered axe, more relaxed than the Dude. He saunters off-stage. He’s mumbled about five words all night.
Walking to my car a fellow Dinosaur Jr. fan passes me. He’s in the middle of the road. He’s riding a Malvern Star bike. It’s a tick after midnight. No helmet, no lights, no hands.