This wasn’t your parents’ charity show.
Eschewing any “We are the world” or Bob Geldof-penned Live Aid platitudes, the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Mass. more closely resembled a gathering of indie all-stars Tuesday night as the lineup for the Whole Children benefit concert took the stage not only to support a worthy cause, but also to play a variety of music guaranteed to keep the gathered crowd rocking late into the night.
Including both national and local favorites like Dinosaur Jr., Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, and the Warblers, the event was also meant as a special fundraiser for the Whole Children organization in Hadley, which provides recreational, social, and enrichment programs for children and teens with disabilities.
Amherst-based garage rockers the Warblers kicked the event off shortly after 6:30 p.m. with a thundering set full of songs “without shame,” as well as others demanding “Peace Now.” Though varying little in tempo, the band (featuring J Mascis’ brother Migel on guitar) managed to earn repeated rounds of polite applause before concluding with a solo-laden finale that included a surprise appearance from J himself.
Following a quick changing of instruments, coming next to the dais as a nice interlude between two sets of rock was Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore, or as he introduced himself to the crowd, “Hi. I’m Thurston. I live across the street from the Smith College campus.”
Playing with his group entitled Demolished Thoughts (after Moore’s recent solo album of the same name), which includes members from fellow Ecstatic Peace affiliates Hush Arbors and Sunburned Hand of Man, the noise-rock icon turned in a hazy yet engaging show featuring material from his newest release as well as 2007’s Trees Outside the Academy.
“Trippy,” one fellow concert-goer mumbled to me partway through the set. “Not just the music, but the movie too.”
Indeed, Moore came to the Calvin equipped with more than just his guitar in hand. Throughout his performance a black and white film played continually in the background of the stage, featuring numerous women dancing in slow-motion. While providing an interesting counterpoint to the mostly acoustic music being played, the movie unexpectedly stopped during the band’s last song leading to a chorus of laughter at the sight of a giant screen displaying the menu screen to an Epson movie player.
Still, for those awaiting a return to more upbeat entertainment they didn’t have to wait long.
After Moore and company left the stage to appreciative cheers, only a short interval of time passed before former Black Flag singer and compulsive world traveler Henry Rollins made his first appearance of the evening.
Though his nearly hour-long act consisted of the repeating a few of the stories usually told as part of his lengthier spoken-word engagements along with the graphic description of his first (and hopefully last) experience drinking cow urine and eating rats, perhaps Rollins’ biggest service of the night was to thank the crowd for their support of an organization like Whole Children.
Labeling himself as one of those kids who was likely “undiagnosed” in regards to possessing a social disability and who was treated instead with harsh discipline, the iconic hardcore front man preached the value of institutions that are pro-active in dealing with problems that affect children.
He said, “I thought getting a great president would change the world and it hasn't. Now I'm starting to think changing the world begins with a bunch of mothers creating a place where children can thrive and the rest of us helping out however we can.”
Eventually, in response to repeated crowd requests to bring on the music (including at least one oddly-placed “Fuck You”) Rollins briefly left the stage only to return in minutes with the members of Dinosaur Jr. in tow for a sit-down interview before their performance.
While described as a success when executed for the first-time in front of a crowd the night before, the audience at the Calvin appeared to have little patience for any attempt at a formal question and answer session.
“Concentrate!” shouted one fan as J Mascis prepared to answer the first question asked him by Rollins.
From there many of exchanges between interviewer and interviewees seemed to dissolve into a series of miscommunications or misremembering by fellow band mates. Though at times difficult to hear over the heckling of the audience, the experience did provide a few priceless moments.
- After neglecting to answer several of the initial questions asked to the group bassist Lou Barlow finally gave in to crowd prodding and said the reason for his lack of participation was due to the fact that he was more interested “to hear what J has to say.”
- Discussing the use of vulgarities in perhaps the band’s best-known song from the Bug album “Freak Scene,” J maintained that he actually recorded a radio-friendly version of the track by muting the offensive parts even though Barlow thought he had sung alternate lyrics instead.
- Going into band history, J acknowledged that, “When you play real loud AND have no fans” it's a recipe for disaster, and may have played a part in getting the group “banned from every club in Northampton.”
- Reminiscing about their mutual time spent on the SST record label, drummer Murph mentioned first meeting Rollins at a particular party, which Henry claimed to have never even been present for.
- Finally, when asked if Dinosaur Jr. listened to other popular indie acts during their heyday, most responses tended towards the affirmative. However, upon mention of the Butthole Surfers Barlow gave an emphatic “No” in regards to ever getting into such a band.
Watch video of Dinosaur Jr. tearing into Bug opening cut “Freak Scene” live here:
Though peppered with guitar heroics and a pummeling rhythmic assault throughout, the band saved its most harrowing performance for the climatic track “Don’t.” Due to his violent singing of the song the night before, Barlow had lost most of voice and was unable to complete the number as intended. So, as a fix two guest vocalists (including one pulled from the crowd) picked up microphones to shred their own vocal chords while belting out the tune’s dark chorus of “Why? / Why don’t you like me?”
The unnamed duo certainly gave the once in a lifetime opportunity a spirited effort, but after 10+ minutes of noisy jamming they each appeared exhausted (and in dire need of throat lozenges) thanks to their time in the spotlight.
Still, the headliners weren’t finished yet. After a scant two minute break, one of the strongest power trios in underground rock history returned for an encore featuring the songs “Feel the Pain” and “Just Like Heaven.”
After a long night of music and fun, the closing numbers were just what the doctor ordered. And as the tired crowd began filing out into the still warm night, this reporter at least couldn’t but smile and think that as long as there are people like Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, and all the members of the Warblers and Dinosaur Jr. in this world, then institutions like Whole Children have a fighting chance.
Who could ask for anything more?
For more information on Dinosaur Jr. or to see future tour dates please www.dinosaurjr.com. To learn more about Henry Rollins please visit www.henryrollins.com. And for Thurston Moore and the Warblers please visit www.sonicyouth.com and www.thewarblers.com.
Also, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on Twitter @NE_Underground and check out more concert footage featuring artists like Garland Jeffreys, Stephen Kellogg and more on the Underground’s official YouTube page.