(Photo: Daniel Maurer; all other photos courtesy of House of Vans)

Last time we caught Dinosaur Jr., during one of their 30th anniversary shows at Bowery Ballroom last year, a veritable Edison cluster of indie-rock luminaries (Kurt Vile, Evan Dando, Henry Rollins, and Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth, just to name a few) joined them on stage, and we wondered how Dinosaur would ever outdo it.
Last night, as the band blasted through a surprise set at House of Vans, everyone was reminded that Dinosaur Jr. doesn’t really have to outdo itself, because the trio’s typical shows are just that good. It’s why Henry Rollins called them “one of the best live bands ever” as part of a recent string of celebrity plugs for Dinosaur’s forthcoming album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. (You can see all the other endorsements– from Kurt Vile, The National, Screaming Females and Wolf Alice– here.)

Last night’s free show was only announced yesterday morning— after Dinosaur die-hards such as myself had already shelled out for their Friday gig opening for Jane’s Addiction at Coney Island’s new ampitheater. But that didn’t stop the Greenpoint warehouse, gussied up by local artists to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vans, from being a packed sweatbox, as usual. (To be fair, the massive space does have the largest industrial fan I’ve ever seen, putting the largest of airplane propellers to shame.)
Last month, Dinosaur had to cancel a string of European shows because J Mascis was “dealing with a very minor health issue,” according to a Facebook announcement. Last night the grey-maned frontman took the stage in a purple neck brace (the indie equivalent of Grohl and Axl’s throne?) and, as usual, was the picture of nonchalance as he blasted jangly, fuzzed-out chords and sloppy solos out of his Marshall stacks.

The band opened with its Pixies-ish classic, “Let It Ride,” off of its last album with Lou Barlow before he went on to form Sebadoh. That was followed by a riffy new song and then Barlow stepped up for vocals on a sped-up version of “Back to Your Heart,” off of Beyond (2007), the first album released after the shaggy-haired bassist’s return to the band.
Then came “Pieces” (off of Farm, 2009), after which the band launched into “Tiny,” off of the new album. The music video for that one was released just a few weeks ago (it features Mascis’s skateboarding bulldog, Tiny) but the song already blends seemlessly with the band’s older stuff. (Incidentally, another video was shot at House of Vans yesterday afternoon, and random fans were called to join in. By the look of photos from the shoot, skateboards were involved.)

With just two new songs off its chest the guys then launched into a trio of ’90s favorites (“Out There,” “Feel the Pain,” and “Start Choppin'”) that got everyone crowd-riding and moshing as if it hadn’t been 25 years since the first Lollapalooza.

And just like that, after about 45 minutes, it was over. No encore, no Perry Farrell cameo, no nada. With two upcoming shows in the area, it was probably wise to leave everyone wanting more. If you missed the House of Vans set and can’t swing the Coney one, the band is playing a show in Asbury Park on Saturday and I can tell you from having seen them there last year that you’ll probably be able to hear Mascis’s squall from the boardwalk.