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  Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr. Rock Profiles
Year: 2021
Director: Philipp Virus
Stars: J Mascis, Lou Barlow, Murph, Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Frank Black, Kurt Vile, Matt Dillon, Kevin Shields, Sonic Boom, Bob Mould
Genre: Documentary, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Dinosaur Jr were a band out of America's East Coast rock scene of the nineteen-eighties, what would come to be termed alternative rock, and their story could have been one of the stories of any number of bands: they meet at school, they do some concerts, cut a few records, but somehow this lot went on to be very influential for the nineties grunge scene as many of those who had heard and like their sound tried to emulate it. This is a documentary about them, detailing how internal strife between J Mascis on guitar, Lou Barlow on bass and Murph on drums led to a troubled set of relationships that created some cult favourite albums, inspired many other bands, and somehow endured as they reformed into a set of triumphant concerts.

Not everyone will have heard of Dinosaur Jr, and even at the height of their success they were by no means huge, leading you to think on watching this and the very specific set of celebrities they got to be talking heads (not many surprises from the roster of famous fans, put it that way) that you really had to be there to get what the big deal was about them. And yet, as one music critic points out, though they were known at the time for their deafeningly loud musicianship live, behind all that aggression were some very well crafted songs, and J had a genuine talent for concocting a melody that could be played loud and forcefully but stood up on the recordings as excellent songwriting. Freakscene is, to all intents and purposes here, their signature tune.

Though nineties kids may be more aware of Start Choppin' or Feel the Pain, thanks to them cropping up on certain radio shows or TV stations showing rock videos, but that said, you do have to know your nineties rock music history to be familiar with those. Would this documentary boost their appeal, or cement their place in the firmament, or was it strictly for those who had a copy of Bug back in the day? Everyone's heard of Nirvana, but would everyone know Nirvana supported Dinosaur Jr on tour in their earlier days? Still, J makes for as intriguing a frontman as ever, his laid back persona seemingly at odds with the ego-driven passive aggressive monster the other two band members paint him as from the first time around for their band. Though he could belt out a tune, you cannot imagine him in a shouting match with anyone for any reason.

As producer of the film and presumably provider of much of the footage we see (some of it even camcorder clips of prehistoric gigs), you could assume Mascis was establishing his own version of events before anyone else got a chance to do the same, but actually the mood is evenhanded throughout, with all the members getting their chance to admit their foibles. There's an interesting observation referred to more than once: playing music doesn't have to be fun. Maybe it should be hard work, maybe you are not supposed to enjoy yourself, and that's where too many bands who do not stay the distance get it wrong. Otherwise, there was a chummy air of old pals getting together to shoot the breeze about this, and it made for an enjoyable eighty minutes of reminiscences and clips, even if at the time back in their pomp it seemed unthinkable music like Dinosaur Jr was going to be the sort of material anyone would get nostalgic about. But that's the thing about the march of time, you don't know what will last and what will fall away. This lot were relevant to a certain group, and mattered.

[Freakscene - The Story of Dinosaur Jr was in in UK Cinemas from 1st October 2021 and is now available on streaming platforms.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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