It was my first visit to Mt Lawley in more than two months, so with the sun setting and the streetlights flickering on, I began to reacquaint myself. I strolled through the hallowed Planet stores and along Beaufort St. At least one new Mexican restaurant had appeared, and a new kebab joint with the same name as me, but otherwise everything was pretty much the same, and it soothed me.
I wove my way to the Astor where the doors had opened and eager Tuesday-night adventurers were pouring in. The terracotta brown, cream and turquoise façade inhaled me and stamped an A on my inner wrist before funnelling me through a popcorn-scented foyer into the hall. It’s a tremendous, dark cavern of a thing with stately Deco decals peering down from on high. Over the decades this place has been a dancehall, a cinema, a bingo venue, a porno and Italian film theatre, a karate dojo, a playhouse. Right now it’s host to a pair who call themselves MOON DUO.
Moon Duo is a surprise treat. They don’t really sound like anything you’d hear on the moon, because (a) sound is virtually non-existent on the moon and (b) songs on the moon would float around a lot because of the minimal gravity and Moon Duo are decidedly h e a v y. I mean they’re not ‘heavy metal’ but their songs do weigh a lot. The pair take relentless, up-tempo drum machine beats and pop song structures and drown them in synth and guitar sludge, demented rock ‘n’ roll riffing and washy vocals. It’s sort of like Suicide meets early Kinks meets name-yer-favourite-shoegaze-band-here; half of the duo is the talented Mr Ripley Johnson from Wooden Shijps so that gives you some clue as to their deep psych inclinations. The other half is fellow San Fran habitant Sanae Yamada who holds it down in a big way on the keys, usually providing moody drone foundations upon which Johnson’s guitar dances and contorts, but she betrays a remarkable rhythmic stamina when the duo delve more into “motorik” territory. The two are a bit “too cool for school” if you know what I mean, frowning at their boots and murmuring sweet nothings into a chasm of reverb, swaying their black-clad hips without any sign of tongues-in-cheeks… but hey, someone’s gotta do it. Anyway, their tunes – although bereft of much variation – are really great, particularly the last song, which sidesteps warped rock’n’roll pastiche for a more unique and compelling sound. I will probably buy some Moon Duo records now.
Then from the wings comes the JON SPENCER BLUES EXPLOSION. They are immediately ridiculous. With more energy than three men can reasonably contain, it leaks out of their pores, mouths and fingers, manifesting in utterly bewildering fast-motion collages of blues, punk, noise rock, rockabilly, funk and whatever else you can produce with a guitar and a gutful of dynamite. Spencer constantly howling “BLUES EXPLOSION!” could be received as pretentious but in the kaleidoscopic, dizzying context of their erratic multi-genre assault, it feels like a cheekily ludicrous conceit; the constant, theatrical reassurance that this band hinges on being a “blues explosion” can only be tongue in cheek. Tunes old and new – and what may have been a Beastie Boys cover, but blink and you’d miss it – meld into what is effectively a single song of varying extreme intensities. Though the crowd’s response paled in comparison to the electric enthusiasm displayed on stage by this tireless trio, I was stoked to finally seem them play. This band has always intrigued me, way back to 1998 when they performed the most outrageous few minutes imaginable on ABC tv show Recovery (Youtube that gem if you haven’t seen it) and inspired me to investigate the Theremin. Their set finishes in a wall of seething noise and I think I need a shower.
For me, tonight is a lesson in context, and the importance of one’s own personal backstory when it comes to enjoying a gig. JSBX blew my socks off, and I reckon they would’ve nomatter what, but the fact remains I harboured warm feelings towards them from bygone years. DINOSAUR JR, meanwhile, perform a solid set but I can’t truly connect to it. My engagement with this band’s music has never been intensive, and I’ve never spent long enough with an album or song to really feel like I owned that listening experience. Still – their raw power and unfading aggression when playing can’t be dismissed, nor the frenzy into which they whip the now swollen crowd. There are crowd favourites like “Freak Scene” and “Feel The Pain” delivered with plenty of sonic gusto, even if it’s not visible on the faces of Misters Mascis, Barlow and “Murph.” There have been famous tensions, well-documented spats, between Mascis and Barlow, but any ill feeling is well hidden; they even delve into nostalgia together, “covering” a track they played in their highschool hardcore punk band Deep Wound. The triceratops of alternative rock loudness blazes nonchalantly through a shortish but hearty set, returning for an encore consisting of a Cure cover (Just Like Heaven) and “Sludgefeast,” replete with more dirty wailing solos than you can poke a Converse sneaker at. For me, their was a set littered with neat moments but very few truly inspired ones, and if I hadn’t known better I could have as easily supposed them to be a contender at a local battle of the bands as a world-famous game changing rock group. Is that a poor reflection on the band? Maybe not. They’re not about the “wow” factor like JSBX might be, they’re a group for the everyman slacker, disillusioned youth, 90’s vibe-tripper, volume fiend. Dinosaur Jr met my most basic expectations of what a Dinosaur Jr set would be, and never hinted at exceeding them, but they weren’t playing for me anyway. They were playing for the fans, many of whom believe deeply in these songs and why not? Dinosaur Jr, as an entity, hasn’t evolved that much since the decade that made them famous. But – cheesy as it is to say – bands are soundtracks to lives, to experiences, to relationships, to sharehouses, to road trips, to bongwater mishaps. For me, Dinosaur Jr is none of those things. To the flailing, beaming crowd who seemed none too disappointed, they might just be all that and more.