J Mascis & Friends, Worth The Wait

After several east coast dates were postponed in early December, J Mascis headed back out on the road in February to support his latest solo effort, Elastic Days, released this past November on Sub Pop.  A healthy and rested J took the stage donning his signature trucker hat atop his long wispy grey locks and Mishka NYC eyeball “peace sign” t-shirt.  He was also sporting some sweet Nike Dunk “Ugly Christmas Sweater” themed high-tops. But before Mascis took the stage he was preceded by some special opening performances, including Australians Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett who together make up the Brooklyn based Luluc (Lou-Luke) as well as a bonus opener William Tyler who was recently out on tour with Ty Segall.

First up was Tyler whose diminutive stature produced a sound larger than life and with such ease and grace.  Tyler’s manicured nails on his picking hand darted in and out of strings plucking them with the speed and accuracy of a spider spinning its web in time-lapse.  The swelling and contracting sounds emanating from Tyler’s acoustic were echoed in the delicate dance of his fingertips that mesmerized the swaying bodies in the audience, many with their eyes closed. Several of the songs in his set came from William Tyler Goes West, which was released on Merge Records last month.  While the album offers insights into Tyler’s move from Nashville to Los Angeles there is something lost in translation between his live and recorded performances, and perhaps this goes without saying for a majority of artists.  However, there’s a real spirit to Tyler’s playing that is lost when listening through speakers or headphones. The real gift is being able to watch his right hand dance in conjunction with his left, sonically conjuring up images of all things Americana along the way.  

The Aussie duo LuLuc were up next. As Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett took the stage there was a collective deep breath and quiet that came over the near capacity crowd, all focus was on their command performance.  Randell was backlit with a bright yellow light that made her glow with an angelic quality as she gently strummed her well travelled and worn acoustic guitar. Randall’s voice was warm and rich with each lyric that fell on the audience.  Hassett alternated between guitar and keyboard while also adding his vocals to the multilayered compositions that often felt as if it were coming from a much larger band. Their overall sound was marked by a timelessness that also felt avant-garde in its minimalism.  

Finally, Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis was next, but before he could take the stage pedals needed plugging, amps needed switching on, and tea needed steeping.  That’s right, tea, 5 different kinds in fact, each with its own distinctive color aligned orderly atop a folding table draped with a bright red fabric. He also used a signature purple music stand with a couple of Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī (aka Amma) stickers affixed to hold what appeared to be lyrics to a couple of songs from the latest album.  Now surrounded with all he needed, Mascis launched into “Thumb” crooning the opening lines “There never really is a good time.There’s always nothing much to say.” Although this was J solo acoustic it was anything but unplugged. It was also interesting to see J stick with one single guitar for the entire set, a beautiful vintage Gibson Florentine Cutaway.  There was no Marshall stack and his pedal board was pared down significantly but still factored heavily in most songs. After all, of the 17 tracks performed 8 were Dinosaur Jr. cuts. He was, however, his usual reserved self offering little more than the occasional “hannkuuu” in appreciation of lengthy applause and loud whistles. Mascis’ enigmatic personality can rub some people the wrong way, often being misconstrued as aloof and dismissive.  Anyone who has met him or watched an interview or two know this to be his genuine mild mannered persona, not an act for an audience. More to the point, J was all business and was in rare form from start to finish. He did engage the crowd upon returning for a 2 song encore asking “Alright, anybody want to hear anything?” While I didn’t hear calls for “Everything Morning” or “Just Like Heaven” that’s what we got and both were spectacular. J heads to Australia so for our sizable readership down under, get to a show near you!

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