Dinosaur Jr. Get Intimate At the Ballroom

With the recent unfortunate announcement that Mastodon’s longtime manager, Nick John, was battling pancreatic cancer, came the subsequent cancelling of all 13 scheduled North American tour dates that featured Dinosaur Jr. as openers.  As a result, the indie rock veterans mounted a headlining tour of their own playing more intimate venues, primarily in the midwest and northeast. Tonight’s stop was in Hamden, CT just outside of New Haven, at the 300 capacity Space Ballroom.  The last time I’d seen Dinosaur Jr. in such a small venue was at the Ottobar in 2006 when the original band members reunited for the first time since 1989. Interestingly enough, bassist Ron Sakowski of openers Easy Action was rocking a vintage Baltimore Orioles themed “Ottobar” shirt.

Fronted by former Negative Approach and Laughing Hyenas singer John Brannon, Easy Action boasts veterans Harold Richardson (guitar) and Ron Sakowski (bass), while adding relative youngster John Lehl (drums) to keep the beat.  Brannon wore a scowl all evening as he looked dead eyed into the crowd while literally slamming the mic into his chin, visibly thrusting his jaw back into his own throat. His voice sounded just as you’d expect someone who endlessly pounds Tecates and breathes only the blue air from Marlboro Reds would. When he addressed the crowd it was with disdain and slurred speech, to be honest it was rather disconcerting. Still his attitude fit their sound but there was nothing “easy” about their set. In fact, with the exception of a couple of more polished songs their sound rivaled silverware being ground round and round in a garbage disposal, and I mean this as a compliment.  Brannon’s jet black dyed hair may have masked his age but his ponch, overall grumpiness, and stumbling drunkenness reflected the years of hard Detroit living that echoed the band’s music and his grizzled howling. Richardson kept a wide base, feet outspread under his square shoulders as his hands slide up and down the neck of his guitar thrashing out power chords. Sakowski looked withered and thin with long stringy grey hair to match his Billy Gibbons-esque long grey beard.  While he appeared old and withered his bass chops rivaled that of any young whipper-snapper weilding a predictable BC Rich slung way down low.  Lehl felt like a hired gun and looked a bit out of place with his glasses, manicured beard, and baseball hat.  If you closed your eyes however, his chops fit synchronously with the rest of the bands edge and grit. It was a pleasure witnessing Brannon and his antics but felt pain in my own jaw after watching the self-inflicted pounding he took all night.

Up next was a welcome sonic pounding from a 9 amp Marshall stack less than 15 feet away, cue the earplugs.  Wearing one of his oft donned Mishka NYC “Eyeball” tees, J took his spot behind his colossal effects board and in front of his iconic wall of amps.  Murph was front and center and so close those in the front row could reach out and touch his kit. Lou set up stage left and bounced about while somehow peering through his long curly mop.  The iconic trio from Amherst, MA kicked things off with “The Lung”, a classic off of the 1987 sophomore release You’re Living All Over Me.  While classics are always met with enthusiasm from a given crowd, it’s when songs from the latest album sound like classics that you know a band still has it and that’s just what happened, with four successive cuts from 2016’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not.  “Goin Down”, “Lost All Day”, “Left/Right”, “I Told Everyone” were followed by the cult classic Cure cover “Just Like Heaven” complete with Lou’s metal vocal growling “YOU!!!” during the chorus and the abrupt premature ending.  The hits kept on coming ranging from mid-90’s “Feel the Pain” to a decade’s earlier “Forget the Swan” and everything in between. One song of note was tonight’s rendition of “The Wagon”, which featured a second drummer in the person of all around indie rock utility man John Moloney on the second kit.  He and Murph were in perfect synchronization as they each pounded away feverishly through the leadoff track from Green Mind.

After a short break that had the sellout crowd chanting “one more song” and clapping in unison the boys returned for a 4 song encore.  First out was Lou who wandered toward the middle of the stage where he picked up a mic and introduced his old high school friend and original Deep Wound bassist, Scott Helland.  Once J and Murph joined them on stage Lou screamed “this song’s about not going to college!!!” before launching into a blistering version of “Training Ground”. Helland handed the bass back to Lou and gave way to John Brannon who returned to scratch out a couple of Negative Approach songs, “Ready to Fight” followed by “Can’t Tell No One”.  After some incoherent rambling Brannon shook his head, clasped the mic between both of his hands, and let out the most identifiable howls followed by the equally iconic opening riff of The Stooges “T.V. Eye”. It was a heck of a way to close out another excellent show put on by these indie rocking legends. Although this mini tour was brief, J is set to hit the road on November 7th starting in Vancouver in support of his forthcoming solo release Elastic Days due out on November 9th on Sub Pop.

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