Put on any of Dinosaur Jr.’s classic late-’80s records — “You’re Living All Over Me” or “Bug” — and what emerges is the sound of a trio locked in epic battle. Guitars snarl, howl and squeal, while bass and drums elbow for space amidst the thick sludge of feedback.
It is, in many ways, the sonic equivalent of the historically turbulent relationship between bandmates J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph.
“The dysfunction totally fueled the sound,” said drummer Murph, born Emmett Murphy III, who often acted as the middle man between the insular crank Mascis and the more emotive, explosive Barlow. “I came from a divorced family, and kids from divorced families often have to play middleman between their mother and their father. Then I got into this band where I had to play middleman between J and Lou. I guess I was used to dealing with it, but it didn’t feel natural. I was like, ‘This probably isn’t good. This isn’t something that’s healthy.’”
It was a combustible and ultimately short-lived mix, and Barlow exited the band less than five years after its formation, following an onstage incident where he goaded Mascis into taking a swing at him. Fortunately, things have been much calmer since the original trio reunited in 2005 — an evolution Murph attributes largely to the natural maturation that comes with age. That should be in evidence when Dinosaur Jr. plays the Majestic Theatre on Friday, Oct. 19.
“It’s kind of like it was time to grow up,” Murph said. “You realize you have to get past all of that (drama) and get down to the business. It’s time to work.”
In that regard the band hasn’t disappointed. Version 2.0 of the trio, which has now been together longer than the first time around, has released three full-length studio albums since reforming, each better than the last. This year’s “I Bet on Sky,” for one, sounds like it could have been released back in the early ’90s when Spin magazine placed Mascis on the cover alongside the words “J Mascis Is God.”
According to Murph, the chemistry between the reunited three was evident from the first 2005 rehearsal at Barlow’s Los Angeles practice space.
“Lou and I had not played together in literally 16 years (Murph remained in the band until 1994, and Mascis soldiered on with replacement players for another three years before finally retiring the Dinosaur name in 1997) and within 20 minutes we felt like we were back in J’s basement playing all the old songs,” he said.
“We stopped and just looked at each other like, ‘This is weird because it doesn’t feel any different.’ It completely felt like we had beamed back to 1988.”
Though the three clicked musically right from the onset, the bandmates’ historically icy interpersonal relations took a bit longer to thaw. Murph said it was only three years ago that the musicians actually went to dinner together, and it’s only in recent months they’ve become comfortable dredging up and hashing out past dramas.
“Now we can have conversations about all that stuff, but it’s taken this long that we can actually talk openly about it,” he said. “We communicate now and we’re adults about everything. Back in the day there was no communication at all.”
Considering the long-running tensions, one might wonder why the three musicians opted to get back together at all. The reunion, said Murph, was partially inspired by this idea that the band still had something left to prove, after imploding just before a sound they helped pioneer took over the mainstream.
“I remember at one point Lou said, ‘If we had stayed together, man, we could have been Nirvana! We could have done this!’” said the drummer.
Even more importantly, however, the players wanted to prove to themselves they could still get it done.
“We did it to see if we still had this thing we started,” said Murph. “It wasn’t to prove anything to the fans or the critics or whatever. It was more internal — to prove to ourselves we still had this bond.”