Saturday: Dinosaur Jr. and Henry Rollins Dissect Bug at 9:30 Club
Bug is the last record you'd expect Dinosaur Jr. to dissect on stage. The seminal indie rock band's original lineup broke up during the 1988 album's supporting tour—a split that lasted until 2005 when the band reformed on good-enough terms. The resurrected partnership has toured and produced two strong albums, and now the group is exhuming Bug, with all its attendant emotional baggage, for a small run of shows in which it'll play the record front to back. That's not all: The band has tapped Henry Rollins, one of its biggest and highest-profile supporters, to interview it on stage each night.
The tour stops by the 9:30 Club tomorrow with an opening set from OFF!—the new hardcore supergroup led by Keith Morris, who shares with Rollins the distinction of having once fronted Black Flag. If this is all sounding like another tribute to Our Band Could Be Your Life, there's more: The show will also be filmed for a tentative live DVD by iconic L.A. punk filmmaker Dave Markey.
But Dinosaur Jr.'s Lou Barlow isn't necessarily feeling nostalgic, and he's definitely not feeling bitter, even though he was famously dismissed from the band by frontman J Mascis after the first leg of the original Bug tour. “I’d probably rather watch it,” Barlow says of the on-stage interview. “But who knows, it could really evolve into something…It’s an unknown thing, so I’m as nervous as anybody else probably is about it.”
He's comfortable with the material, he says, no matter what the context. "I mean, we’re working on our seventh year here reunited," Barlow says. "We’re workers. When there’s a plan, we follow through. We’ve taken it as far as making new records, and, at this point, we’re pretty strong. So doing the Bug record is kind of not really a problem.”
This isn't the first album that Dinosaur Jr. has revived in whole—the catalyst for the band's ongoing reunion was a 2005 performance of 1987's You're Living All Over Me—but Bug is different because not everything on it was meant to be performed live. "I do think there are some songs on Bug where I remember we recorded them and it was like ‘No we’re never gonna do that, that’s too weird,'" says Barlow.
The shows shouldn't be seen as any sort of landmark, Barlow cautions. “Not to be negative about it, but it’s just typical record-collector necrophilia. If Velvet Underground were to have reunited in 1984 and done Velvet Underground and Nico front to back, I would’ve been fucking psyched. It would have been great, like ‘Woo!’ So to me it’s kind of like a gesture for fans. I don’t find the whole thing unusual because I think exhuming the past and rediscovering music that’s happened before is just part of being a music fan.
"There are bands that are fortunate enough not to be left totally behind and in the past, and we’re lucky to be one of those bands.”
1988 was a strange time for Dinosaur Jr. “By the time Bug came out, it’s not like we were making enemies, we were doing really well in Germany and England, and our tours in the states were getting bigger and bigger,” Barlow says. “In our own minds…we had already peaked, we had already become as popular as we’d ever wanted to be. The fight was over. The first two records represented getting the band over on people and not getting banned from clubs, all those torturous tours, that time was over.”
Bug was the second record the band released on the influential SST label—also home t0 Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, and other '80s indie heavyweights. Like many fans, Rollins remembers falling for Bug's "Freak Scene." “I had heard them on the radio with the first Homestead record so I knew who they were,” Rollins says. “I didn’t have the money to buy their album at the time, but I knew of them. I just remember 'Freak Scene' coming out in 1988. I spent most of that year out on the road touring, and that song was everywhere—every club, the BBC was playing it, it was just one of those songs you can’t shake. You wonder why J cusses two times in it because otherwise it’s one of those inescapably catchy songs, and it was an album that drew a lot of people to that band.”
Rollins has remained a disciple of the band—and especially of Mascis—since. “It’s just music I really like,” he says. “And I think they still write really good songs…There’s still a lot of naked vulnerability in [Mascis’s] lyrics that I really appreciate. Because it would be fairly impossible for me to articulate anything like that. I don’t know if I would be able to put it into writing anymore. I just wouldn’t want to put that out there like I would when I was 22. J remains fearless, and I think that’s very very brave and big of him and I admire it. So I pay attention to anything he does.”
When Dinosaur Jr approached Rollins about joining the group for the East Coast shows, he agreed with one reservation. “What I want to do is keep my fandom out of the way,” he says, laughing. “When you’re a fan of the band maybe you’re not the best person to interview that band. So knowing that, I am going to very delicately and adroitly keep myself out of that and just get the information...'Cause I’m 50 and I’m sure the Dinosaur Jr. guys aren’t that far behind me. The audience could very well have been two years old, five years old when Bug was released, so maybe that era might not have the same context. I want to see if they can help the audience understand where they were at, what was relevant at the time.”
Fawning aside, it's tough to understate the sheer force Keith Morris brings onstage, even though he's well into his 50s. A show that unites two iconic Black Flag frontmen on one bill might be worth a fit of nostalgia. “It’s really funny just being on tour with two ex-Black Flag vocalists,” Barlow says. “Not to mention Henry’s S.O.A was a huge deal to me as a mail-ordering, first-wave hardcore kid."
Rollins doesn't find it quite so surreal. “I get to see Keith sing every night—Black Flag's original—and best—singer, and also just one of the best frontmen ever,” Rollins says. “I mean, he’s a fascinating dude with more charisma than he knows what to do with. He’s the real thing, he doesn’t have to try. He’s like Iggy. He just shows up and it’s real.”
Perhaps feeling that this weekend's hardcore revival hadn’t quite come full circle, Dinosaur Jr. enlisted Markey (1991: The Year Punk Broke) to film Saturday night’s show in its entirety, eschewing the other dates and venues in favor of 9:30’s open, camera-friendly room. In addition to his own crew, Markey will provide six fans with cameras, the prize for winning his "In the Hands of the Fans" contest.
Barlow doesn't mind the cameras while he does his work. “His stuff is pretty casual, so I’m not sure how much pressure it would really add,” he said. “But I’ll do my best.”
Dinosaur Jr. performs Bug at the 9:30 Club tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. $30.