Henry Rollins is the George Thorogood of punk rock. He has the appearance and credentials of someone bad to the bone, but in practice, he's pure establishment. After opening the interview part of the night with a tiptoe question about Dinosaur Jr.'s past trials (Q: Was there anything different about the recording process of Bug versus the prior records? A: Yeah, we hated each other.), Rollins went into schlocky rockumentarian mode, tossing the band softball after softball and prefacing each with gushing praise.
A supposedly expert interviewer, Rollins seemed more like a college radio DJ, failing to historically contextualize his subject and instead referring to vague exaltations of rock awesomeness. He queried the band on their use of two "f-bombs" in the lyrics of "Freak Scene," the single and opener from Bug (a yawn of a question in an era where songs titled "Fuck You" win Grammys), and at one point, credited J Mascis and co. as "changing the way thousands and millions of people listen to music" — which, iconic as the band may be, is awkward and simply untrue. As the interview portion closed, almost literally snuffed out by a wave of chatter slowly mounting from the back of the room, my anticipation for the set had been dampened, not piqued. Four very interesting men had managed to be very boring for 10 minutes.
When Dinosaur Jr. emerged 15 minutes later to actually play "Freak Scene," all was redeemed. It is a great song, and the f-bombs, of course, were overtaken by the fortress of Marshall stacks Mascis had erected behind himself. When the band played the lurching "No Bones," an even better song, I remembered another pained storyline from the band's history that has nothing to do with J's frustrations with the bass player. These are probably all love songs for Uma Thurman, Mascis's sweetheart from his Amherst adolescence, who spurned him for Hollywood in the '80s, a subject Rollins wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Reasons of rock awesomeness aside, if I had to tour an album of haunted songs for a lost love 25 years after she left, I'd do my best to blow out my senses with Marshall stacks too.
One of the caveats of playing a classic album in toto is not being allowed to skip the embarrassing tracks. Dinosaur Jr. closed the set with "Don't," which features bassist Lou Barlow's sole vocal contribution to Bug (the phrase "why don't you like me?" bellowed ad nauseam over atypically husky doom riffs). A quarter-century later, it's still hard to tell if "Don't" is a bad joke, a Swans nod, or an earnest plea from an awkward, unconfident kid. Regardless, it's unquestionably a terrible track, so credit the adult version of Lou for sucking it up and playing it straight. The benefit of hindsight brings with it a bunch of silly questions, but with a band as historically good as this, the best are those they're able to ask of themselves.